KOTA KINABALU: Delegates of the state's oldest political party - Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) - will discuss the possibility of a merger with fellow native-based Sabah STAR over the weekend.
Leaders of PBS, who have remained non-committal over the merger, are leaving their delegates at the 38th party congress to decide on a mechanism that might see a decision for a merger or closer working relations with Sabah STAR led by Datuk Seri Dr Jeffrey Kitingan.
Opening the party's Youth and Wanita wings annual meeting here on Saturday (Sept 23), PBS deputy president Datuk Seri Dr Joachim Gunsalam left it to the floor to have an open discussion for any decision towards the merger proposal by Sabah STAR.
"I leave it to you (delegates) in the Youth and Wanita wings to discuss what is the best mechanism to look at the merger or a working relationship," said Dr Gunsalam, who is currently heading the party's special force to handle party affairs in absence of party president Datuk Seri Dr Maximus Ongkili, who has been unwell for some time.
Dr Gunsalam, who is Deputy Chief Minister II, said that PBS as a member of the ruling Gabungan Rakyat Sabah (GRS) already had a working relationship with the Sabah STAR who was also a component of GRS.
"What is very clear is that we in PBS will give unwavering assurances about cooperation within GRS of which PBS and Sabah STAR are important components.
"I suggest that we can cooperate more closely with Sabah STAR because they actually started (breakaway) from PBS and their struggle is also not far from our struggle," he told the delegates.
He said the political situation in Sabah was no longer like the past where one single party could rule the state.
"Now we have to be realistic that most likely, there is no longer one party that can dominate the entire state like in the era of Usno (1967-76), Berjaya (1976-1985) and PBS (1984-1994) before.
"We have to accept that we need to have comrades in arms to lead the government together in the future. We need to strengthen our collaboration with GRS and the top leadership of PBS is fully committed to working with GRS in the next state election.
"This approach is very important so that we convey it to the grassroots level so that there is no confusion among PBS and GRS supporters," he said.
Following the fall of the PBS government under Tan Sri Joseph Pairin Kitingan in 1994, senior leaders of PBS had left the party to form their own breakaway parties.
Jeffrey, Pairin's younger brother, had also left for several other parties before getting to form Sabah STAR.
Currently, PBS holds seven state seats and a single seat in Parliament while Sabah STAR holds six state seats and an MP. The seats are mainly non-Muslim native based seats but both parties are multi-racial based.
In their opening speeches, both PBS youth chief Christopher Mandut and Wanita chief Datin Malianah Ugau also told delegates to hold an important discussion on the matter.
The main PBS congress will be opened by the party's premier advisor Pairin on Sunday (Sept 24) while Dr Gunsalam will read out Ongkili's policy speech during the congress.