KOTA KINABALU: As preparations for the general election pick up, the focus here is whether Sabah’s longest serving elected representative will stick around for one last hurrah.
A year ago, Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) president Tan Sri Joseph Pairin Kitingan (pic) handed over the reins of administration to his deputy with an expressed plan to retire at the end of the current term.
However, talk is rife that Pairin, who has been Tambunan state assemblyman from 1976 and Keningau MP since 1985, might hang on to secure both seats for Barisan Nasional.
Party officials revealed that Pairin was already back in full control of the PBS in what they see as a move to keep him in election gear mode.
Keningau has become a political hotbed with Pairin’s younger brother Datuk Dr Jeffrey, the Parti Solidariti Tanah Air Ku (Sabah STAR) president, said to be planning to move from his Bingkor state seat to mount a challenge in Tambunan and Keningau.
Other Opposition parties, including Parti Warisan Sabah led by Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal, are also eyeing the interior seats, which have seen close fights in the past two general elections.
The officials said the state Barisan leadership considered Pairin, 77, who is the Deputy Chief Minister, as the best bet to retain both seats for Barisan.
Deputy PBS president Datuk Seri Dr Maximus Ongkili, who is the Kota Marudu MP, spoke of his interest in contesting in Tambunan and defend his parliamentary seat.
So far, Pairin, the Kadazandusun Huguan Siou (supreme leader), has been tight-lipped about his plans.
“Wait for Nomination Day, we will all know then,” was his response to reporters on Sunday.
Previously, he told the press that there was “a 99% chance I will retire”.
Pairin began his political career with Parti Berjaya in 1976, and formed PBS in 1985 to famously topple the Berjaya government led by Tan Sri Mohd Harris Salleh.
PBS joined Barisan but left just before the 1990 general election.
Pairin’s state government collapsed three weeks after the 1994 state election following a spate of defections to Sabah Barisan parties.
PBS returned to the Barisan fold in 2002 with Pairin made Deputy Chief Minister.