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Monday, December 31, 2018

Winds of change likely in Sabah

Friends turn rivals?: Shafie (left) and Hajiji (right). —Bernama
Friends turn rivals?: Shafie (left) and Hajiji (right). —Bernama
KOTA KINABALU: Sabah’s fluid political movement is set to overflow into the New Year with pundits anticipating more realignment as Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal holds on to his control of the state.
Rising on the horizon for 2019 is either a strengthening or weakening of the Parti Warisan Sabah president’s political strength as ally Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) sets its eyes on the 16 former Sabah Umno lawmakers and members in its bid to spread its wings to the state.
Seven months after a stunning topple of the entrenched Umno in Sabah, Shafie has strengthened his position as Chief Minister but fluid national politics casts a shadow on his political base.
Perceiving the tug of war between Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s Bersatu and PKR’s Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, political analysts see Shafie caught in the battle of giants as he hopes to keep Sabah out of the national political play and push forward the state’s agenda.
The defectors, who claim to have some 100,000 new members for Bersatu, believe that a national party is a preferable choice as historically, local based parties tend not to withstand or survive more than two terms in government.
Warisan, which had a private deal with Bersatu to take on Umno in Sabah prior to the May 9 polls, is sticking firm that the party honours its pledge not to set foot in the state.
With Dr Mahathir indicating the possibility of the defectors being taken in as direct members without Bersatu spreading its wings to Sabah, the idea, according to some observers, may see some Sabah Umno defectors rethinking their position.
For many political analysts, the Sabah Umno defections - seen as the weakest link of the once powerful national party - was aimed at triggering the fall of Umno across the country by a national leader.
After top Sabah Umno leaders left, several MPs in peninsula moved but were halted by Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s decision to step aside as party president, noted an analyst who declined to be named.
However, he believes that more movements will take place next year with Sabah MPs and leaders getting caught up in the national politics as they try to put themselves in the right place to be part of government.
“There is a keen political tussle in Peninsula Malaysia that is also seeing a bickering within PKR leadership,” said the analyst.
He noted that caught in the power play, Shafie was struggling to keep Warisan and Sabah aloft in his bid to push for state rights and retain his hold on Sabah without national allies trying to dilute his grip.
Shafie currently holds an unassailable two-thirds or 45-seat majority in the 65-member house with his allies Upko, DAP and PKR while the opposition PBS and Sabah STAR and the now independent Umno assemblymen have the remaining 15 seats.
Musa’s younger brother - former Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman, who left in September ahead of the defections - is trying to woo the defectors, comprising five MPs, nine assemblymen and two senators, into an existing local Sabah based party or a new one, noted observers.
Although Anifah is not seen in the same political light as Musa, most ex-Sabah Umno lawmakers are not too keen to associate themselves with him as his older brother has been blamed for the loss of power of both Sabah Barisan Nasional and Sabah Umno.
Observers said Anifah, like Shafie, was pressing for Sabah rights under the Malaysia Agreement 1963, putting them on the same platform.
However, there seems to be a political difference between Shafie, a Sabah east coast leader, and west coast and interior leaders like Hajiji, Anifah as well as Sabah STAR president Datuk Dr Jeffrey Kitingan.
“There will be more movements in Sabah which ever way. We just have to wait and see which way it goes,” said Sabah political observer Rahezzal Shah.- Star

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