Close race for PBS No 2

KOTA KINABALU: All eyes will be on the battle for the deputy president’s post as Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) kicks off its back-to-back 36th and 37th annual delegates conference today.

Its vice-president Datuk Dr Joachim Gunsalam is pitted against secretary-general Datuk Joniston Bangkuai in what analysts expect to be a tight and exciting race for the No 2 post of the non-Muslim bumiputra quota of Sabah’s oldest party.

Dr Joachim, a medical doctor, and Bangkuai, an ex-journalist, are both leaders of the Kadazan Dusun Murut Rungus (KDMR)-majority rural constituencies, with the former as the Kundasang assemblyman and latter being the Kiulu representative.

Sabah Universiti Teknologi Mara lecturer Tony Paridi Bagang and Universiti Malaysia Sabah’s Lee Kuok Tiung said while both leaders had their own strengths, the 64-year-old Dr Joachim held somewhat of an advantage.

They said his seniority and the fact that he is a Sabah Deputy Chief Minister held him in good stead.

“Dr Joachim is one of the senior members of PBS and built up his political base in 2004 and has been able to retain his seat since,” said Bagang.

On the 60-year-old Bangkuai, who is also the State Tourism, Culture and Environment Assistant Minister, Bagang said he was quite “visible” and was perceived as someone who dared to speak up, giving him an advantage in terms of introducing new ideas or reforms to PBS.

Lee said Bangkuai’s outspokenness, particularly on Sabah rights issues, made him stand out. He said Dr Joachim was made Deputy Chief Minister and a minister in the state Cabinet following the 2020 snap election due to his seniority in the party.

“However, Bangkuai’s nomination (to run for the deputy presidency) is an indicator that some in PBS want to see change. But whether members are willing to accept that transition is another matter,” he said.

Bagang said the tussle for the PBS deputy presidency is viewed as a contest between family members, with the aim of strengthening the multiracial party as one of Sabah’s most dominant political outfits.

“Whatever the result is, the target is to strengthen the party and ensure that PBS will not be overshadowed by Sabah STAR, which is led by Datuk Seri Dr Jeffrey Kitingan, another Deputy Chief Minister,” he said.

The delegates’ conferences will be held until Friday, with the party elections scheduled a day earlier. The contest for the deputy president’s post is seen as a chance for party delegates to put in place the second echelon leadership.

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