KOTA KINABALU: Intense multi-cornered fights are looming in all 25 parliamentary and 60 state seats as six opposition parties try to outdo each other to break open Barisan Nasional's safe deposit state of Sabah.
In the most crowded field ever in an election in Sabah, Pakatan Rakyat partners and two local-based parties have announced their finalised candidates for the seats.
PKR is taking the bulk of the seats 19 parliamentary and 43 state. DAP is going for four parliamentary and eight state seats, followed by PAS with two parliamentary and seven state seats.
Fighting on a Borneo agenda, State Reform Party (STAR) together with protem Usno Baru intend to contest 19 parliamentary and 55 state seats; with Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) standing in eight parliamentary and 38 state seats.
Eighty-nine candidates from Barisan, PKR, DAP, PAS, Bersekutu and Independents stood for parliamentary and another 197 for state seats in the 2008 general election.
Twenty parliamentary and 69 state candidates lost their deposits.
Barisan, which only lost the Kota Kinabalu parliamentary and Sri Tanjung state seats to DAP in the last general election, is going all out to defend its safe deposit fortress.
Political observers reason that the crowded field was due to the inability of Pakatan parties to reach an agreement with SAPP which is led by Datuk Yong Teck Lee and Datuk Dr Jeffrey Kitingan's STAR.
The hype of this election and the high stakes have Sabah politicians believing the timing is right for a change.
They feel confident they can win, said Prof Dr Faisal Aziz, the Unimas head of Social Science faculty
However, Dr Faisal said multi-cornered fights did not necessary mean the incumbents had an advantage.
10 parliament seats in the spotlight are:
1. Keningau: This seat will see a repeat of a contest involving two brothers of one of Sabah's prominant political families.
PBS president Tan Sri Joseph Pairin Kitingan will be defending the seat for the seventh time. He first won the seat in 1986.
Taking him on is his younger brother Datuk Dr Jeffery Kitingan, Sabah chairman of the State Reform Party (STAR).
They last squared off for Keningau in 2008 with Pairin winning it with a 4,264 vote majority.
The third candidate for this seat is PKR's Stephen Sandor, a former civil servant.
2. Beaufort: The contest for this southwestern constituency is shaping up to be a battle for Bisaya supremacy.
The two main contenders for the seat - Umno's Datuk Azizah Mohd Dun and her former party colleague, Datuk Lajim Ukin - are members of this Sabah ethnic community.
Incumbent Lajim won the seat with a 10,914 vote majority in 2008. when he was involved in a seat swap with Azizah. Prior to the polls that year, he held the Klias state seat while Azizah was in Beaufort.
Last September however, Lajim quit Umno and aligned himself with PKR paving the way for the battle of this seat.
Also vying for this seat is STAR's Guandee Kohoi.
3. Tuaran: The contest for this constituency is being dubbed the battle of the Wilfreds.
It will see two former political colleagues squaring off for the seat.
In one corner is incumbent Datuk Wilfred Bumburing who quit Upko last September and aligned himself to PKR.
The other Wilfred contesting is Upko secretary party secretary Datuk Wilfred Tangau.
Hoping to have an edge over the two Wilfreds is Jasmin Dulin of STAR.
4. Penampang: Considered the heartland of the Kadazandusun, Penampang will see a contest between an experienced politician and a new face.
Lawyer Darell Leiking, 42, of PKR is challenging incumbent Tan Sri Bernard Dompok - the 64-year-old Upko president - for the seat.
The third candidate for this seat is STAR's Melanie Annol.
5. Kinabatangan: Controversial member of parliament, Datuk Bung Mokthar Radin will be defending his seat against PKR's Mustafa Datu Tambuyong and Yambuaya @ Cyril Parantis of STAR.
Bung, who is also the leader of the backbencher's club in Parliament, is well-known for his perceived sexist remarks in the house.
6. Semporna: Known as the gateway to Sabah's beautiful coral reefs, Semporna will be the battleground of two political families.
Minister of Rural Development, Datuk Shafie Apdal of UMNO will be facing Datu Baharudin Datu Mustapha who is contesting under an United Sabah National Organisation (Usno) ticket.
Shafie is the nephew of former Yang di-Pertuan Negeri, Tun Sakaran Dandai, while Baharudin is a son of one of Malaysia's founding fathers, Tun Mustapha Datu Harun.
Usno has also formed an alliance with Datuk Dr Jeffrey Kitingan's Sarawak-based State Reform Party
Shafie Apdal is a popular figure in Semporna, so Baharudin needs to bank on more than his family's name to win the seat.
7. Kota Kinabalu: BN's Chin Tek Ming will be facing DAP's Jimmy Wong in the state capital.
But support for Wong, a Tawau native, is rather shaky in the Chinese majority seat.
Both opposition members and voters in the constituency are questioning DAP's decision to field a parachute candidate' as it suggests there are no qualified candidates from the constituency.
Chin is known for his active involvement as community development officer and this may earn him some points in the constituency.
Hoping also to make an impact in this seat is Dr Felix Chong of STAR.
8. Sandakan: Incumbent V.K. Liew, the Liberal Democratic Party president, is facing an electorate that has voted in opposition DAP before.
This time around he is facing DAP's Wong Tien Fatt @ Wong Nyuk Foh.
In 2008, Liew won the Sandakan seat with a narrow 176-vote majority.
9. Pensiangan: Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah (PBRS) president Tan Sri Joseph Kurup won the seat by default in 2008 when his sole challenger was disqualified on nomination day.
The disqualification was subsequently upheld by an Election Court.
Kurup, known as political survivor, will face businessman Datuk Dr Richard Gunting of PKR.
Lawyer Martin Tommy of STAR is also hoping to wrest the seat from Kurup as well.
10. Silam: The Barisan Nasional safe seat will see more focus this time around in the wake of the Feb 9 Sulu intrusion.
The state seats of Lahad Datu, Tungku and Kunak fall within this parliamentary constituency where a close watch will be kept on which way the voters of Bajau and Suluk origin will swing.
Former Lahad Datu assemblyman Datuk Nasrun Datu Mansor will be facing PKR's Dr Badrulamin Bahron.
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