‘Cowboys of the East’ make a comeback

KOTA BELUD: Bajau warlord Datuk Seri Salleh Said Keruak and Iranun warrior Tan Sri Pandikar Amin are finding that their fate is uncertain in seats that they would have won with certainty two polls ago.

Salleh is facing a tight three-cornered fight for Usukan.

Pandikar, who is a former Dewan Rakyat Speaker, is slugging it out in a six-way contest for the new seat of Pintasan in Kota Belud, the land of the Sabah’s “cowboys of the east”.

He is wearing a new political cap under United Sabah National Organisation (Usno) in his comeback bid.

As for Salleh, who lost the Kota Belud parliamentary seat in 2018, he is hoping to recapture Usukan that was Umno’s first seat in Sabah.

Both men have held a strong sway over the electorate since the 1990s.

Pandikar was the leader of the ethnic Iranuns while Salleh is a Bajau leader who inherited his family’s political stronghold from his late father Tun Mohammad Said Keruak, a former chief minister and state governor.

“I would like to think I would win until the votes are counted, then we will know, ” said Pandikar, who decided to contest under Usno (Baru) whose name is similar to the original independence party of Tun Mustapha Harun that dissolved to pave the way for Umno’s entry into Sabah in 1991.

Pandikar acknowledged that he was facing stiff challenge from contenders, particularly Perikatan Nasional’s Fairuz Renddan and Warisan’s Mohd Safian Saludin.

The new seat of Pintasan comprises 65% ethnic Iranuns. The rest are from the ethnic groups of Bajau and Dusun.

Pandikar said that if the elections were about personalities, his rivals were no match for him.

“It is up to the voters. If they want somebody like me, I’m younger, compared to Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, ” said Pandikar, who is offering voters a “new deal” that emphasises on state rights, and state and federal relations.

For some voters in Pintasan, Pandikar is seen as a brand name of the Iranun.

But there are also those who prefer to look beyond the past and train their eyes on the younger candidates from Warisan and Perikatan.

Salleh, in the meantime, seemed to have taken an early lead after the Sept 12 nominations but his main challengers -- Abdul Bahkrin Mohd Yusof of Warisan and Parti Cinta Sabah’s Datuk Mohd Nazaruddin Datu Tigabelas -- seem to have caught up.

Voters interviewed felt that Salleh has an edge over his rivals but they also felt that those “sabotages” might change the game for him.

“Salleh’s well-oiled election machinery has been running a tight campaign but the worry is whether voters will stray towards polling day, ” said an observer in Kota Belud.

He was of the view that the race is still wide open.

In neighbouring Tempasuk, three-term incumbent assemblyman Datuk Musbah Jamli has voiced confidence in taking back the seat on an independent ticket.

The Bajau leader, who is claiming to be Perikatan friendly, is taking on Barisan Nasional’s Mohd Arsad Bistari (Umno) and PKR’s Mustapha Sakmud in a six-cornered fight.

“Since I became an independent (candidate), I am getting the support from some Umno and PKR members who have joined me as they are unhappy, ” Musbah claimed, adding that he believed he is leading the race.

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