Carving a legacy with his iron will

A fighter to the end, Kurup had an illustrious career in Sabah politics

KOTA KINABALU: The late Tan Sri Joseph Kurup (pic) left behind a legacy of being one of those rare Sabah politicians who survived the rough and tumble of the state’s politics.

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

Even in defeat, Kurup, the 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 manoeuvres to keep his Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah (PBRS) on a tight leash also saw him tightening 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 in numerous challenges to not only maintain hold of PBRS but also the Sook state and Pensiangan parliamentary seats over the years.

Kurup passed on his political mandate to his son Datuk Arthur, who has retained his father’s record by winning Pensiangan for Barisan Nasional in the 2018 general election despite a political tsunami that saw the coalition lose nationally.

Kurup stepped aside as PBRS president in January 2023 after helming it for almost three decades since March 1994 and handed over the reins to Arthur.

On Wednesday, Kurup passed away at the National Heart Institute in Kuala Lumpur at 6.22pm, having been treated for heart ailments for about three weeks. He was 80.

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

Kurup, who won the Sook state seat in that election, 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 out of the state Cabinet.

Pairin’s government collapsed following a spate of defections three weeks after the February 1994 state election, which resulted in Sabah Barisan 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).

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 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 before making way for his son Arthur to contest the parliamentary seat in 2018.Like many Kadazandusun leaders from the PBS era, Kurup also called for unity for the Kadazandusun, Murut and Rungus parties.

During his last public appearance at a cultural event in January, Kurup made an impassioned 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 out rapidly upon electoral defeats.Following Kurup’s passing, well-known Sabah leaders offered an outpouring of condolences, among them being Tan Sri Musa Aman.

The former chief minister hailed Kurup as a loyal friend who was open to discussions and upheld the Barisan spirit of mutual cooperation and respect.“As a partner in Barisan, he remained steadfast till the end, not abandoning his friends in their hour of need,” he said in a statement, extending his condolences to Kurup’s wife Puan Sri Melinda Tussin and her family.

Musa added that Kurup was the bedrock of PBRS and had kept the party together against all odds before passing the torch to Arthur, the current Deputy Agriculture and Food Security Minister, upon retiring from politics last year.

PBS president Datuk Seri Dr Maximus Ongkili, in a Facebook post, bade goodbye to one of Sabah’s veteran politicians who had "seen it all, politically,"

He started his political journey with us in PBS before leaving to head his own party in 1994,” he said, adding that they shared a lot of memories together and that he would cherish their friendship.

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