Is Shafie the man for the job?

Man of the people: Shafie’s demands for Sabah’s rights to be restored under the Malaysia Agreement 1963 while promoting inclusive nation-building for all is striking a chord with locals. — Bernama

DATUK Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal cuts a lone figure for Warisan Plus as he takes his campaign of state rights and equality for all Malaysians to every nook and corner of the state.

Seen by many as the “vote-getter” for the ruling coalition, Shafie seems unfazed with the might of the federal-backed Opposition Gabungan Rakyat Sabah (GRS).

Observers see him standing his ground and pushing hard against his opponents, as he is seeking a second term after a first term of 26 months was cut short by an attempted coup through crossovers.

The might of GRS includes a host of top federal and state leaders campaigning relentlessly against Shafie’s coalition.

Shafie’s demands for Sabah’s rights to be restored under the Malaysia Agreement 1963 while promoting inclusive nation-building for all is striking a chord with locals.

For two months, prior to nominations on Sept 12, Shafie had made several round trips all over Sabah, pitching the importance of Sabahans being united in order to “get back” the diluted or lost rights.

“Sabah is rich with resources but all goes to KL which doesn’t give back to the state. So the people remain poor,” is among his key campaign pitches.

He noted his administration had demanded that Petronas pay up to 5% state sales tax (SST) on petroleum products.

“They (Petronas) can pay back (about) RM3bil to Sarawak in SST, why can’t they pay us the taxes due to the state,” noted Shafie, while campaigning.

He also alluded that pro-Federal Government Gabungan Rakyat Sabah (GRS) would continue to allow Kuala Lumpur to drain Sabah’s resources.

According to pundits, Shafie is enjoying a high degree of personal popularity with the electorate but the question still remains whether this will translate into votes on the ground as he faces a massive push by the eight-party GRS alliance comprising Sabah Barisan, Sabah Perikatan Nasional and Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS).

Perikatan chairman Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, who has been visiting Sabah to campaign, is appealing for the state and federal parties to be aligned.

The Prime Minister is seen as the key leader for the state opposition taking on Shafie’s coalition.

His popularity cannot be underestimated as studies have indicated high popularity ratings for him due to his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and its economic fallout.

Universiti Sains Malaysia Assoc Prof Dr Sivamurugan Pandian was among those who noted that Muhyiddin’s popularity rating was very high in Sabah.

“In fact, Perikatan and Barisan should utilise his popularity to win more votes,” he added.

A similar view was expressed by independent political analyst Dr Jeniri Amir, who noted that precedence has shown the advantages of sitting prime ministers in campaigns.

“His appearance here gave some kind of legitimacy and confidence to the people on the ground. In short, he carries the might of the Federal Government machinery and this will be of advantage to the Opposition,” he added.

Shafie and his partners Upko, DAP, PKR and Amanah have to also contend with smaller parties led by major political figures like former foreign minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman (Parti Cinta Sabah) and former Dewan Rakyat Speaker Tan Sri Pandikar Amin (Usno).

It will also not be a walk in the park for Shafie in the Kadazandusun-Murut (KDM) heartlands, as Warisan Plus will face multi-cornered fights in 24 non-Muslim and 45 Muslim seats across the state.

Upko led by Datuk Seri Wilfred Madius Tangau has been trying to break the PBS-Sabah STAR-PBRS hold over the community.

But observers noted the outcome on polling day is the only sure way of knowing if Warisan Plus was able to make inroads with the communities.

Meanwhile, Shafie’s political nemesis from his days in Umno, Tan Sri Musa Aman, continues to weigh heavily on the Warisan Plus campaign even though the latter was not chosen by Umno to defend his Sungai Sibuga seat.

Observers noted Shafie has focused more of his time attacking Musa and his brother Anifah in the campaign than Sabah Umno chief Datuk Seri Bung Moktar Radin or Sabah Bersatu chairman Datuk Hajiji Mohd Noor.

Musa has also been campaigning mostly for Perikatan and PBS candidates.

Many believe Umno itself is concerned that Musa could be a liability for them as they blame him for the loss of power in the state in the 2018 General Election.

One observer said that Shafie needs to “remind people” of Musa’s legacy to strengthen his ground against Sabah Umno.

Shafie and Warisan Plus campaigners are telling voters that the large number of Opposition candidates was part of an orchestrated effort to split votes to bring down the hold of Warisan Plus on Sabah.

The governments of Tun Mustapha Harun’s Usno (1967-1976) and the popular Tan Sri Joseph Pairin Kitingan’s PBS (1985-1994), which rode into power on the platform of state rights were eventually defeated by the might of the Federal Government.

Many things can happen with only four days left to the Sept 26 polling.

Can Shafie and Warisan Plus stand up against the might of Goliath this time around?

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