KOTA KINABALU: Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s choice of little-known state divisional leader Datuk Sangkar Rasam to head Sabah PKR is unlikely to change the fortunes of the national opposition in the state, says an analyst.
Universiti Malaysia Sabah senior lecturer Dr Romzi Ationg said the PKR president’s pick of the political lightweight could be viewed as a head-scratcher amid the party’s quest to become a significant force in state politics.
Romzi opined that the move to appoint Sangkar, who heads the interior PKR Keningau division, was a strategic decision by the leadership to woo local voters, particularly from the native Kadazandusun Murut (KDM) communities.
He added the decision could also be motivated by the growing sentiments around local parties taking more of a leading role compared with their peninsula compatriots in Sabah.
"These sentiments are getting stronger in this land and that they required leadership changes, not only at the state leadership level, but also in many 'cabang' (divisions).
"Though many view that such a move (appointing Sangkar to head Sabah PKR) may impact KDM voters, I personally am unconvinced with such an argument.
"This is due to the growing Sabahan party sentiment and the failure of the party (PKR) in fulfilling their promises made during the 14th General Election (GE14).
"(So) I don’t think the state leadership switch will significantly change Pakatan Harapan’s political influence in Sabah.
"PKR is required to do more to secure strong political support from Sabahan voters," Romzi said, when contacted Wednesday (Aug 10).
Anwar had announced last Saturday (Aug 6) that Sangkar will be the Sabah PKR state leadership council chairman for the 2022-2025 period, replacing Datuk Christina Liew who has held the post since October 2016.
Sangkar will be carrying out his duties together with PKR vice-president and Putatan MP Awang Husaini Sahari and Liew, who retained the Sabah Pakatan chairman position.
Sangkar had in December last year led 16 state PKR divisional leaders in a revolt against Liew’s chairmanship, calling for Anwar to remove the former Sabah deputy chief minister as the state leadership council chairman.
Speaking on behalf of the 16 leaders, Sangkar, whose influence is seen as only limited to the interior areas, had contended then that Sabah PKR could only be strengthened to face GE15 if they had a new leader in place.
Sabah Universiti Teknologi Mara lecturer Tony Paridi Bagang believed Sangkar’s appointment was an attempt by the party to put forward a new leader in Sabah who is not associated with any controversy.
"Anwar’s approach may be seen as an attempt to minimise or neutralise any political baggage faced by some leaders in Sabah PKR.
"The party is hoping it could strengthen itself and thus be able to obtain victory in the coming election.
"However, it’s too early to say what positive effect this could give to Sabah PKR," he said.
Bagang said the move to elevate Sangkar to a prominent position also seemed to suggest that he may be placed as a candidate in either the Keningau or Pensiangan interior seats.
He added PKR hoped to give a greater challenge to the predominantly KDM seats held by Sabah STAR president Datuk Dr Jeffrey Kitingan and Parti Bersatu Sabah Rakyat deputy president Datuk Arthur Joseph Kurup.
Romzi concurred that Anwar’s decision to appoint Sangkar and Roland Engan as the Sarawak PKR chief as a strategy to secure more seats, focusing in urban and rural seats with predominantly KDM and Dayak voters in both Sabah and Sarawak.
"But he (Anwar) needs the X-factor to win those potential seats. This includes the selection of quality candidates and minimising the Sabah for Sabahan sentiment among others," he said.
Anwar’s decision over the leadership change surprised party members as Sangkar was picked to replace heavyweights Liew who holds the Tawau MP and Api-Api state seats as well as Husaini who is the Putatan MP and Peto Galim who is the Inanam assemblyman.
A Sabah PKR leader who wished to remain anonymous said Sangkar, a former Umno member and businessman, was not well-known among the political circles including in the party itself.
While giving Anwar the benefit of the doubt, the leader however, suggested the president should get to know Sangkar better first before having appointed him as the party’s top leader in Sabah.