SABAH politician Datuk Dr Jeffrey Kitingan was still recovering from surgery in hospital when he learnt of Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal’s comments about the opposition parties in the state.
The doctors had removed a 3cm gallstone that had been bothering him for some time but a day later, the Sabah STAR president dashed off a press statement from his hospital bed blasting Shafie.
“I am still lying in hospital, but I simply could not be silent,” said Dr Jeffrey when contacted.
The Parti Warisan Sabah president’s speech about political frogs during a Warisan gathering had stirred a hornet’s nest.
It was given the frontpage treatment in the all the Sabah newspapers, and suddenly all the opposition parties that had been wooing him were pointing knives at him.
Warisan has been making waves in Sabah. The local opposition parties have been eager to form a grand coalition with Warisan as the leading partner and they were puzzled that he had ignored their overtures. Warisan was acting like a beautiful village belle playing hard to get.
Shafie recently revealed why – his concern was that some election candidates may cross over to other parties after winning, or even on Nomination Day . Fear of betrayal meant that he had to be careful about who to work with.
Simply put, he does not trust his fellow opposition friends and who can blame him? Sabah is famous for political frogs. Many of the leading state opposition leaders have hopped from one party to another.
But his remarks ruffled feathers and leaders of the opposition parties grouped under the United Sabah Alliance (USA) have called him arrogant, proud and a hypocrite. They said Shafie only began championing the rights of Sabahans after leaving Umno.
“I am saddened by his action. Our door was open but after what happened over the last few days, he is shutting the door,” said SAPP deputy president Melanie Chia.
Chia’s sharp-tongued president Datuk Yong Teck Lee even accused Shafie of being a proxy of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
“We offered to work with him, but he does not want to. We want the people of Sabah to know that he does not want to work with us,” said Yong, whose party used to be with Barisan Nasional.
Shafie also told Pakatan Harapan to stay in the peninsula and leave Sabah to Warisan. He also asked DAP to stick to urban seats because they are not that popular in the rural heartland.
That did not go down well with DAP, which has done work in outlying areas like service centres and medical and education camps. Moreover, some DAP leaders have yet to forgive Warisan for poaching several of their leaders.
It was pretty weird – the opposition is supposed to be fighting Barisan and not each other.
It is unclear what possessed Shafie to talk like that. The new kid on the block was dictating to the old-timers. Some thought he was behaving like Dr Mahathir, whose party has only one MP and two assemblymen but is contesting the most seats and laying claim to the Prime Minister post.
Moreover, a video of Shafie singing My Way at a charity event has been going around. He sang it well, but everyone knows it is Dr Mahathir’s signature song.
“Look at the crowds at his ceramah, they are big and this has given him confidence. He feels he can go all out to win, he knows people will use Warisan to vent their anger at BN,” said Unimas lecturer Dr Arnold Puyok.
In hindsight, this was the first time Shafie had spelt out what he had in mind since forming Warisan in 2016. He also reaffirmed that Warisan will go it alone and there will not be an election pact with the Sabah opposition parties or Pakatan Harapan.
Shafie knows that no opposition party can win the state on its own, so what is his game plan?
The inside talk is that Warisan is banking on the possibility that no coalition or party can win enough seats in the general election to form the state government. If that happens, Warisan will move to form a coalition government with friendly parties and crossover assemblymen.
Warisan is also not interested in all that kleptocracy and anti-corruption thing. Shafie claims that his aim is to defend the rights of Sabah.
His party has also tried to paint their struggle as akin to that of Tan Sri Joseph Pairin Kitingin who, despite overwhelming odds, formed PBS and defeated the Berjaya-led state government in 1985.
“Warisan will do some damage to Musa in the KDM (Kadazandusun Murut) seats and on the east coast, but what’s happening now is very different from Pairin’s time.” said Fui K. Soong, chief executive officer of the CENSE think tank.
According to Soong, there was an inspirational aspect to Pairin’s revolt. He was defending his community’s concerns over state-backed faith conversion, which had become a big issue among the mostly Christian KDMs and which had become a threat to their identity in Sabah.
“Pairin held the moral high ground then,” said Soong.
Shafie has also taken the bold step of trying to sell Dr Mahathir to his supporters. At a Kota Belud event, he asked Sabahans to forgive the former premier and accept him in his new opposition role.
“To restore the rights of Sabahans, you have to work with a federal power. You cannot do it alone,” said Dr Arnold.
Shafie was probably testing the ground for Dr Mahathir to visit Sabah because the elder man has yet to step foot in Sabah since joining the opposition.
Dr Mahathir as the prime minister-in-waiting is not really an issue for the average Sabahan. But the KDM community views him as some kind of villain for his role in Project IC, a covert operation granting citizenship to illegal immigrants so as to offset the KDM population.
“You know how Sabahans feel about Mahathir. He changed the demographics of Sabah and created a social and security monster. We don’t want him to come back and do worse things,” said Dr Jeffrey.
Or as SAPP’s Chia put it: “Ours is a Borneo agenda, our priority is greater autonomy for the state whereas Pakatan and Barisan Nasional have a Malayan agenda.”
Many Sabahans and Sarawakians refer to the peninsula as Malaya.
Shafie has an immense war chest going by his well-organised gatherings – big tents, modern sound system, fancy stage, chairs for everyone and even lucky draws.
The show of strength must have needled his opponents because a video of people leaving the Kota Belud event while Shafie was talking quickly went viral.
“When their blue water tanks have no impact, they play the arrest game. When that also fails, they spin and edit videos of our leader’s speeches,” said Warisan Youth chief Azis Jamman.
The general election will be the most intense in decades for Sabah. Both sides will do what it takes to win. Pictures of the big homes and expensive cars of Barisan politicians have been circulating on social media.
There were also rumours that Shafie had a stroke and died. But he is very much alive and healthy as an ox. Neither has he lost his boyish good looks despite turning 60 a few months ago – he spent his last birthday as a guest of MACC.
Many are puzzled why Chief Minister Tan Sri Musa Aman, the man Shafie is itching to replace, has been his usual low-profile self. He has ideas and he knows how to implement them, but he is not great at articulating, unlike his late counterpart in Sarawak, Tan Sri Adenan Satem. Adenan sold the Sarawak dream so beautifully and sang his way into the people’s hearts. Musa, on the other hand, prefers to work quietly and without fanfare.
The same cannot be said for Shafie’s ex-friend Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, who arrived in Sabah on Friday for a two-day visit. Shafie has been slamming Najib at all his ceramah stops. But Najib knew better than to return fire on his former BFF’s homeground.
Instead, he aimed his bullets at the man Sabahans know as “Mr Project IC”. Without once mentioning Dr Mahathir by name, he said that no country in the world, not even Zimbabwe, wants a retired 93-year-old as their prime minister.
He urged his audiences at every stop of his Sabah visit to vote for stability and continuity. Then he ran through what he had delivered to Sabah since becoming Prime Minister.
It is a no-brainer – Najib has done more for Sabah and Sarawak than Dr Mahathir did in his entire 22 years at the top.
The powers of incumbency also come with a big chequebook and he announced a new bridge to link Labuan and the mainland, as well as RM8.5mil to upgrade the town centre of Penampang.
The Sabah election has been described as Cash vs Money, given that both sides have ample war chests. But it will also be about clashing battle cries of Change vs Stability.