DATUK Seri Shafie Apdal has not lost his composure throughout his ordeal these last few days.
The Warisan president knew it was only a matter of time before the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commis-sion (MACC) would come looking for him and when the phone call came, he duly flew back to Kota Kinabalu with his wife Datin Seri Shuryani Shuaib.
He was greeted at the airport by several hundred supporters and lots of handphones sticking up in the air to record the moment. There were more people gathered there than on the day he flew home after resigning from Umno.
There was such a crush that his minders could not find the car that was waiting for him until someone called out “Ninja putih”, and they headed towards the white Toyota Land Cruiser parked by the curb.
It must have been one of the most stressful days of his life but the smile was still there even if it was not as bright and cheery as usual.
However, his wife was clearly devastated, she looked as though the world had come crashing down around her and she was in tears by the time they got into the car.
The tension had started to show by the time his car drove up to the MACC office but he still managed to smile at supporters gathered there.
He had never in his wildest dreams thought that he would be spending his 60th birthday as a guest of the MACC.
That very evening, his blood pressure shot up and he was sent to hospital where he spent the night.
He arrived at the courthouse the next morning in an ambulance. He obviously enjoys a special status in the scheme of things because he did not have to wear that dreaded orange T-shirt. He was still in the white shirt he had on the day before.
The MACC probe into the alleged abuse of funds to the tune of billions of ringgit meant for rural development and the poor has finally reached the big man. It has come down to this moment for him.
Warisan marked its first anniversary on Tuesday. The party had been making steady progress but the mood was subdued.
A string of his party leaders and officials were remanded for questioning the last couple of weeks and, on Thursday, his press secretary Zamri Maulan was picked up at the KLIA as Shafie was about to take off for Sabah.
Party leaders have been psychologically prepared for the dragnet but it is still terribly unnerving when it actually happens.
Warisan deputy president Darell Leiking has likened his boss’ arrest to that of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.
That was a bit of a blunder because Anwar is not well-regarded among Sabahans and someone quickly corrected it and compared Shafie to the Kadazandusun icon Tan Sri Joseph Pairin Kitingan.
MACC officials have treated Shafie with respect because he is a big name in Sabah and he in turn has reciprocated like a gentleman.
He had sent word through Leiking to tell their supporters to stay calm and not get emotional and shout or yell.
He wanted to them to know that the MACC was doing its work and that he wants to respect the law and due process.
But according to a Sabah journalist, Shafie has seen it all. He knows how things can get out of hand because of a few hotheads. He does not want his supporters to take matters into their own hands and create trouble.
There has been a surge of sympathy for the party but these are uncertain times with the MACC sword hanging over their heads.
Political risk analyst Amir Fareed Rahim said the crackdown on Warisan can be a double-edged sword. It could bring sympathy and galvanise support for Shafie and when his remand is over, he will bring his rhetoric to the ground and present himself as a victim of politics.
At another level, said Amir, the arrests of Warisan leaders will present operational problems for the leadership.
“It is hard to stay focused once the MACC is after you. It can undermine your confidence,” he said.
It also creates uncertainty for the road ahead and it will not be good for the party if this sentiment trickles down to the ground.
Sympathy is a great motivator but voters also want assurance about the people they vote for.
The cynics say that corruption is endemic in the political culture of Sabah, that it is the name of the game and people are not going to judge Warisan leaders too harshly.
“I beg to defer, many people I meet support what MACC is doing. They are very critical of politicians who help themselves to development allocations, they think this is why Sabah has fallen behind the peninsula.
“On the other hand, they also see it as selective prosecution and an attempt to weaken Warisan.
“They want MACC to continue doing its work and to not only crack down on Warisan leaders,” said university lecturer Dr Arnold Puyok.
Reporters were sent scrambling when Shafie left the hospital yesterday afternoon and was whisked off to Taman Golf View where officers searched his house there before taking him to the MACC office for questioning.
His remand ends tomorrow and that is when it will get interesting because what he went through will provide material for another long round of politics for both sides.