KOTA KINABALU: Parti Bersatu Sabah vice-president Datuk Dr Joachim Gunsalam and secretary-general Datuk Joniston Bangkuai are set to square off for the number two post in the state's oldest party.
The two will clash at the party's congress to claim the deputy presidency for the non-Muslim Bumiputra quota.
The 36th and 37th annual PBS delegates conferences will be held back-to-back from June 28 to July 1, with the party elections being on June 30.
Dr Gunsalam, who is a Deputy Chief Minister and Bangkuai, the state Assistant Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister, confirmed on Friday (June 24) that they will be contesting the post.
Incumbent Datuk Seri Radin Malleh has opted not to defend the position.
The contest for the non-Muslim Bumiputera deputy president’s post is widely seen as the party delegates putting its second echelon leadership in place in the event of a succession in future.
The non-Muslim Bumiputra deputy president is widely seen as the most likely successor to the president of the multi-racial party which draws its strength from the native Kadazan Dusun Murut Rungus (KDMR) community.
PBS president Datuk Seri Dr Maximus Ongkili is almost certain to be returned unopposed as there was no nomination against him, according to party officials.
He took over the helm of the party from founding president Tan Sri Joseph Pairin Kitingan in 2017.
Bangkuai said this was not the first opportunity afforded to him to contest the post as he received the second highest number of nominations after Radin in the last party polls.
“But I decided to pave the way for Radin to be returned unopposed,” he said, when contacted.
The Kiulu assemblyman and former journalist noted that his decision to vie for the post now was also in response to the openness practised within the party.
“I am encouraged by the good number of nominations (this time) despite having not openly sought to be nominated which to me reflects the maturity and capability of the divisions in making their evaluation of leaders - this ought to be respected,” he said.
"This is a family contest and not about 'unseating' anybody. The real winner is the party," he added.
Bangkuai explained that he had a genuine desire to help the president to further strengthen the party by making full use of the experience and insight on what needed to be done in order to refresh, revitalise and rejuvenate things in PBS.
“I gained all these while serving as information chief and now secretary-general,” he said.
In a brief text message, Dr Gunsalam said he trusted the party members would make their best judgement on who should helm the post.
“I leave it to the wisdom of delegates. This is just within PBS to assist the president in discharging his duties to all party members.
“To me, it’s another responsibility - not a privilege,” he added.
A contest is also on for the deputy president’s post for the Chinese quota where incumbent Datuk Seri Dr Yee Moh Chai is being challenged by former Tanjung Aru assemblyman Datuk Edward Yong Oui Fah.
As for the Muslim Bumuputra quota, Datuk Jahid Jahim is expected to retain the deputy presiden post uncontested.