Kurup will be remembered as a political survivor


KOTA KINABALU: Tan Sri Joseph Kurup is probably a rare Sabah politician who survived the state's rough and tough political terrain.

For nearly four decades, Kurup has stayed in the corridors of power at the state and federal levels where many of his more influential contemporaries fell into the political wilderness of Sabah.

Even in defeats, Kurup, who started out as a state agriculture department clerk turned lawyer, managed to make quick political comebacks to retain positions within the ruling governments.

Kurup may not have been a giant in Sabah politics but his shrewd political maneuvers to keep a tight leash on his control of his Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah (PBRS) also saw his political control in the interior Murut heartland of Pensiangan.

Underestimated and taken as a lightweight by his opponents, the unassuming Kurup out-manoeuvred many of his numerous challenges to not only maintain hold on PBRS but also the Sook state and Pensiangan seats over the years.

Kurup passed on his political mandate to his son Datuk Arthur, who kept his father's legacy winning the Pensiangan seat for Barisan Nasional in the 2018 general election despite a political tsunami that saw Barisan lose nationally.

He then stepped aside as the PBRS president in Jan 2023, handing over the reins to Arthur after leading the party from March 1994.

Kurup passed away at the Institut Jantung Negara (IJN) at 6.22pm on Wednesday (April 18) after being treated for heart-related ailments for about three weeks. He was 80.

Kurup plunged into politics with Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) led by Tan Sri Joseph Pairin Kitingan stunning the nation when his fledgling party toppled the all-powerful Parti Berjaya state government in the 1985 election.

Kurup won the Sook state seat in that election and was Deputy Chief Minister (1986-90) and PBS secretary general.

He remained a minister in Pairin's Cabinet till 1994 but after the state election, Kurup opted to stay out of the state Cabinet.

Pairin's government collapsed to spate of defections three weeks after the Feb 1994 state election with Sabah Barisan Nasional led by Sabah Umno taking over the state government.

Kurup was among the PBS assemblymen who quit PBS and went on to take over PBRS that formally joined Sabah Barisan. He was made a Deputy Chief Minister (1994-99).

Other PBS leaders and assemblymen went on to form new parties or joined existing Barisan parties at that time.

In the 1999 state election, Kurup lost the Sook seat but was nominated as an assemblyman and made a state minister. In 2004, he won back the Sook seat.

In the 2008 general election, Kurup contested Pensiangan and was made a federal deputy minister and in 2013 was elevated to Minister in the Prime Minister's Department in 2013 before making way for his son Arthur to contest the Pensiangan seat in 2018.

Like many Kadazandusun leaders from the PBS era, Kurup also called for unity for the Kadazandusun, Murut and Rungus parties.

In an emotional call during his last public appearance at a cultural event in January this year, Kurup made a passionate call for the native community to be united and strong again.

His political survival will remain a political legacy in a state where the shelf lives of political leaders fizzle rapidly on defeats.

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