By : JOE FERNANDEZ
THE YOUNG Turks, a powerful pressure lobby within the State Reform Party (Star), won the day when party chief Jeffrey Kitingan finally announced in Kota Kinabalu on Mon that he may go for all 60 state and 26 parliamentary seats in Sabah including Labuan at the forthcoming 13th General Election.
Jeffrey made the announcement after leading 20 party leaders to meet with the Election Commission in the Sabah capital for a pre-polls briefing. Ironically, he made no mention of the Sabah Progressive Party (Sapp), a member of his United Borneo Alliance (UBA).
One caveat, if any on Jeffrey’s newly-found 60/26 approach, hinges on whether Sabah Umno veteran Lajim Ukin quits the ruling coalition to head the dormant Sabah Peoples Front (SPF). Star will be constrained, in that case, to hand over some Dusun Muslim seats, only Bisaya, to Lajim.
The young Turks have long been pushing for the party to go for broke on the grounds that the people must be given a democratic choice. They are against “any form of pre-polls seat-sharing to circumvent the people’s will”. Besides, going for broke would be a referendum of sorts on Star’s Borneo Agenda, the young Turks reason. Jeffrey subscribes to the referendum view and had been hoping that Sapp will come along as well.
If the young Turks have now gained the upper hand in the party, the credit must largely go to Sapp which broke ranks in the UBA and unilaterally forged a seat-sharing pact over the weekend with Pakatan Rakyat (PR), the Peninsular Malaysia-based national opposition alliance.
Besides Star and Sapp, other members of the UBA in Sabah are the still to be re-registered United Sabah National Organisation (Usno) and several NGOs viz. United Borneo Front (UBF), Common Interest Group Malaysia (CigMA), Borneo Heritage Foundation (BHF), the Borneo Forum (BF) and the Borneo chapters of the United Kingdom-based Human Rights Foundation of Malaysia (HRF). Usno will be fielding candidates under the Star symbol.
It’s not known how the seats in Sabah will be shared between Sapp and PR. The only information available is what Sabah Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) Chief, Thamrin Haji Jaini, has been reportedly whispering about in town i.e. Sapp will keep its present two parliamentary seats in Tawau and Sepanggar and field candidates in 35 of the 60 state seats. The rest will go to PR.
In an immediate reaction, Star supporters are saying its déjà vu.
In 1994, the breakaway Sapp was in 'cahoots' with Anwar Ibrahim -- then with Umno – to do a number on the Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) led by then Sabah Chief Minister Joseph Pairin Kitingan.
Old habits die hard or rather a leopard doesn’t change its spots!
Eighteen years later, Sapp is again in cahoots with the same Anwar Ibrahim – now with Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) – to do a number on the younger Kitingan.
Nothing seems to have changed in Sabah. The more things appear to change in the state, the more they remain the same.
Anwar, adding insult to injury, let it be known in the media before he left town, that he’s open to offering some of PR’s seats to an opposition party in Sabah. He has SPF in mind, according to insiders in Sabah PKR, and has no intentions to part with any to Star “given imminent developments”.
The ''imminent developments', according to Sabah PKR activists, hinge on United PasokMomogun KadazanDusunMurut Organisation (Upko) deputy president Wilfred Mojilip Bumburing joining PKR to woo Native votes away from Jeffrey and back to the Sabah chapter of the Peninsular Malaysia-based party.
Hence, Anwar sees no need for Jeffrey or his Star in the political equation in Sabah. The Opposition leader has long seen the Kitingan family, the only political dynasty in Sabah, as the ultimate stumbling block in his political designs on the state.
Star insiders point out that under a deal struck within Upko, Bumburing has to make way for his fellow party leader Wilfred Madius Tangau in the Tuaran parliamentary seat. That means Bumburing’s position in Upko has become untenable.
Also, in a further sign of Bumburing’s long-waning political fortunes, he had to pull out recently from bidding for the Upko Tuaran divisional head’s post when Madius obtained an overwhelming majority of the nominations. Bumburing sees this as the ultimate humiliation in a division where his family has long been the local warlords and mini-political dynasty.
Jeffrey’s 60/26 declaration, no longer a warning shot across the bow, will not come as a complete surprise to Sapp.
Another caveat on the 60/26 approach is a Star letter to Sapp, reportedly on its way to the latter, seeking its official position on the subject of seat sharing.
The young Turks prevailed upon Jeffrey over the weekend to give a good piece of the party’s mind to Sapp over it literally stabbing Star in the back. Jeffrey agreed that they could draft a letter to Sapp which would be signed by a deputy chairman, Daniel John Jambun, a noted hawk in the party.
The thrust of the letter in its draft form, several young Turks revealed, was that Sapp should not have gone off at a tangent on a limb and unilaterally forged a seat-sharing pact with “the parti parti Malaya” eyeing seats in Sabah. By doing so, Star held, Sapp had broken ranks in UBA “and this is not the done thing”.
Wither the Borneo Alliance and the Borneo Agenda, Star asked Sapp.
Who are these 'parti parti Malaya' to come to Sabah and say in the local media that they 'will consider' giving some seats to local parties, Star further asked Sapp.
The Star letter also castigated Sapp for declaring in the media, after the seat-sharing pact, that it was only interested in the state seats in Sabah and had “conceded those in Parliament for the state to the parti parti Malaya”.
Star’s worry, as outlined in the letter to Sapp, is that Peninsular Malaysia has more than the 'less than two-thirds' seats in Parliament envisaged by the Malaysia Agreement.
“If the parti parti Malaya are allowed to cross the South China Sea to our side and grab even more seats in Parliament, at our further expense, the imbalance of seats will surely worsen,” the letter reads. “In short, the parti parti Malaya want to have their cake and eat it too.”
On the one hand, “they want to further strengthen themselves in Parliament but at our expense”, fumes the letter, and on the other hand, by doing so, “they will be further weakening our position in Parliament”.
The issue of the possible rectification of the imbalance of seats in Parliament, as recommended by the recent Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC), must also be kept in mind, according to the Star letter.
“If the parti parti Malaya are allowed by local parties, either by omission or act, to represent Sabah and Sarawak in Parliament, they will be in a position to grab the additional seats implied in PSC’s recommendation.”
Sabah and Sarawak have autonomy under the Malaysia Agreement, noted the Star letter. “However, it's not logical to expect the parti parti Malaya to defend our autonomy and speak up in Parliament or the state assembly on issues which affect us.”
Tearing into the local members in the “parti parti Malaya”, the letter virtually describes them as traitors who are willing, “for the proverbial 30 pieces of silver, to be proxies and stooges of the orang Malaya”.
“These are the worst enemies that a people could have as leaders,” reads the letter. “Let there be no mistake about that. We are simply kidding ourselves if we think otherwise.”
The Star letter asks Sapp for “your official position on the sharing of seats with us and, if really necessary, with any other parties”.
In addition, Star wants “an assurance from you on your continued membership in our United Borneo Alliance? Are you still in or out?”
The answer seems to be obvious but Star, for reasons best known to it, insists on flogging a dead horse. The fact that Sapp chose to engage in seat-sharing talks with PKR, if not PR, without consulting with Star, speaks volumes.
Sapp has been obsessed with re-inventing itself -- since leaving the Barisan Nasional on 17 Sept 2008 -- and seeking continued relevance in the politics of Sabah. However, Sabahans will have nothing left if their political leaders insist on selling, for reasons of short-term political expediency, their souls to the devil himself.
Being caught between the devil and the deep blue sea is no reason to push the panic buttons.
It has been said that better the known devil than the unknown angel. Having said that, do Sabahans want to position themselves post-13th GE to merely go from the frying pan into the fire or vice versa!
These either or situations are no choices for Sabah and Sarawak. No doubt, in the next step, Star and its UBA allies will go for all 31 parliamentary seats in Sarawak. Win or lose or even lose deposit should not matter. The people should decide, as the young Turks in Star are preaching to their elders.
It’s being hinted that there’s even a possibility that Star will incorporate a Peninsular Malaysia chapter to field candidates in the 67 parliamentary seats in Peninsular Malaysia where the Indians (3rd Force element) -- think Hindraf Makkal Sakthi -- decide.
Also, in state seats in Peninsular Malaysia where Indians and Orang Asli (another 3rd Force element) decide. - Sabahkini