THE dynamics of Sabah politics changed on Thursday.
On that day, former Umno vice-president Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal sought the Registrar of Societies’ approval to take over a Sabah-based political party.
The Semporna MP’s announcement was eclipsed by reports that PKR vice-president Darell Leiking was at his side at the RoS office in Putrajaya.
My colleague Muguntan Vanar called Leiking to find out whether he had quit PKR. And The Star Online broke the story that the Penampang MP had quietly left PKR to be part of Shafie’s new political setup.
Although Leiking’s decision was not a surprise as it was an open secret that he was planning a “PKRxit”, news that he was now with Shafie fired up the various Sabah WhatsApp groups that I’m in.
As expected, Barisan Nasional supporters whacked Leiking for abandoning PKR. Some prophesised that it was the death of PKR in Sabah.
The opposition supporters, however, were supportive that the Penampang MP was leaving a “Malaya party” (that’s what many Sabahans call a non-Sabah party) to be with a Sabah-based party. His move resonated with the anti Malaya-based parties sentiment among the opposition supporters in my state.
Curious to know what was going on in the head of my MP (I’m from Penampang), I WhatsApp-ed Leiking.
“What’s the turning point that made you quit PKR?” I asked.
“It was more of a political decision after taking into consideration the current political expectations and sentiments – but I stress that it has nothing to do with any personal matter. You, being from Sabah, would probably understand when I say it is a Sabah thing and what more the political conditioning on home ground – vis-à-vis local party and national (or as commonly used back home “Malaya”-based) party,” he said.
“When you considered quitting PKR, did you worry that you would be labelled a political frog?” I asked the 45-year-old Kadazandusun politician, who was with Umno before joining PKR.
“I had never thought or even contemplated being with Barisan. Hence the branding does not arise for me. I know the label will be made by some and even right now, in some chat (groups), the Barisan guys are naming (my decision) as a ‘frog’ move,” he said.
“The funny thing is they just don’t get that the term ‘frog’ is a crossover from one political ideology to an absolutely different political ideology altogether.
“I remain in the opposition but have responded to the current circumstances whereby we want a Sabah-based political movement.”
In General Election 13, PKR had its best result in Sabah. It won seven state seats and one MP seat.
However, four lawmakers including Leiking have left the party. And very likely its Moyog assemblyman Terrence Siambun and Klias assemblyman and Sabah Opposition leader Datuk Lajim Ukin will also quit.
This leaves PKR with only two assemblymen. It feels like it is crumbling in Sabah.
However, Leiking, who parted pleasantly with PKR, thinks that PKR will not crumble in his state.
PKR has survived many challenges being a national opposition and there was no reason for it to crumble in Sabah, he said.
With Shafie leading a new political party, the crowded Sabah political scene has gotten more crowded.
Very likely in GE14, it will be a Barisan vs Pakatan Harapan vs USA (United Sabah Alliance comprising of Star, SAPP and Parti Cinta Sabah) vs Gabungan Rakyat (an alliance of unknown or mosquito parties in Sabah, Sarawak and peninsular Malaysia) vs independents.
A united Barisan has the edge against a divided opposition.
I asked Leiking whether a united opposition front was possible in Sabah. He said he believed that the opposition would want a combined front in GE14.
“How the dynamics will eventually happen will depend on whether these parties will listen to the current pulse of the electorates. We wish to avoid any competition but again it comes back to what the ultimate aims of these parties are,” he said.
“I want to be in a winning team – combination/coalition of political forces – of course and my view is we need to listen to the Sabahan electorates and what they want.”
The sceptic in me was not convinced that there will be a united opposition front against the mighty Barisan in Sabah.
“How are you going to hammer a one-on-one fight against Barisan in GE14? Is that even possible?” I asked.
“I’m practical. We will do our best to work with all,” he said.
I’m also practical and I don’t think Leiking is being practical. A one-on-one contest against Barisan is next to impossible.
The Kuala Lumpur-based opposition parties will bully the Sabah-based opposition parties when they are at the seat-sharing negotiation table.
DAP, especially, will insist on contesting in all its seats. And that will be in a direct clash with SAPP.
PKR deputy president Datuk Seri Azmin Ali is an uncompromising negotiator. And the leader of another Sabah-based opposition party is known for his wavering decisions.
I asked Leiking to give a hint of what to expect of his new party, which will be led by Shafie.
“It will be a multiracial Sabah-based party,” he said.
Both he and Shafie want the Sabah style of administration, leadership and vision without the dictates of peninsular political parties.
“Datuk Shafie has lived through the Usno era right to Berjaya, PBS and the current regime. I have lived through Berjaya, PBS and the current regime,” he said.
“We both have seen and read what Sabah had and was, and we are convinced that we want a new Sabah and go back to that multiracial Sabah-based political movement which Sabahans knew and so dearly want once again.”
On Thursday night, after going through the WhatsApp messages and talking to people in the know in Sabah, I felt that the dynamic of Sabah politics had changed.
For the wind of change to happen, it depends on several factors such as whether there will be one-on-one fights in the 73 Sabah seats and whether Umno leaders who are against Sabah’s chief minister will join forces with Shafie.
Sabah politics is jumpy. Watch this space.