KOTA KINABALU: The escalating cold war between Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) and Sabah Star – both in Gabungan Rakyat Sabah (GRS) – could weaken the ruling coalition, say political observers.
Besides being at loggerheads, the Kadazandusun and Murut based parties – led by Datuk Seri Dr Maximus Ongkili (PBS) and Datuk Seri Dr Jeffrey Kitingan (Sabah Star) – are competing to expand their non-Muslim native base.
Sabah STAR’s move to poach PBS grassroots members allegedly with “sweeteners” triggered tension between the two allies.
Universiti Teknologi Mara Sabah lecturer Tony Paridi Bagang noted PBS and STAR delivered significant seats for GRS especially in the Kadazandusun and Murut constituencies in the snap state elections last September.
He said the dispute between the parties, if prolonged, could put GRS in a fragile position.
Bagang also said Ongkili’s statement on May 12 that PBS was always open to political cooperation with any Sabah-based parties, following overtures by former chief minister Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal, could trigger mixed reactions among non-Muslim locals.
“Shafie’s statement was just ‘testing the water’ to see the reaction from the ground and political elites with different political divides.
“If it is genuinely true and official, I think Warisan is making a strategic move to work or ally itself with PBS to capture the Kadazandusun and Murut support, ” he said.
“However, this could be ‘political suicide’ for PBS.”
Bagang also described the overtures as just political talk until both parties officially make their stand and noted the general silence of other opposition parties – DAP, PKR and Upko – which are aligned to Warisan.
Singapore Institute of International Affairs senior fellow Dr Oh Ei Sun said that Sabah political parties are beginning to look at various political alignments especially with uncertainty at the federal level.
“I think now that politics is so volatile, especially at the federal level, politicians are putting up trial balloons for various plausible political permutations and combinations, so that they could avail themselves of greater political heights.“So the recent flirting between Warisan and PBS should be seen in this context, ” he said.
He said that it was an open secret that PBS and Sabah STAR were vying for domination in the Kadazandusun and Murut grounds.
“Sabah STAR having become somewhat of an upstart is upsetting PBS’s long-standing stranglehold on the non-Muslim native support, ” he said
Currently, the 10 party GRS has a comfortable 48 seats in the 79 member assembly while the opposition Warisan and its partner hold 30 seats.
One seat is vacant.