DATUK Seri Shafie Apdal has been the undisputed king of the hill since achieving his dream of becoming Chief Minister of Sabah.
But the Parti Warisan Sabah president is about to face his biggest test in the impending Kimanis parliamentary by-election.
Kimanis, by most accounts, will be a different kettle of fish from the Sandakan by-election where Shafie’s east coast clout and appeal were instrumental in clinching the stunning win.
For a start, Kimanis is one of only three constituencies in Sabah with a significant community of Bruneian Malays who originated from Brunei.
According to Sabah-born analyst Fui K. Soong, the Bruneian Malays are a minority in the state but they stand out as a community.
“They are known to be rather refined, enterprising and politically tuned-in, ” said Soong.
They are also rather cliquish in their politics.
Shafie may not find the same adoring reception here as on the eastern seaboard where he holds court.
“Shafie enjoys broad support in the coastal constituencies. If you look at the electoral map, Warisan won all the coastal seats. He could possibly swing it in Kimanis but he will have to work for it, ” said Dr Oh Ei Sun, Senior Fellow of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs.
Kadarazanduns make up the second biggest group in Kimanis and, according to Parti Kerjasama Anak Negeri president Datuk Henrynus Amin, although the Kadazanduns are not with Umno, they are not exactly drawn towards Warisan either.
Henrynus claimed that the community is dead set against a proposal by some in the state government to register stateless children which they think will change the geo-politics of Sabah.
And then there is the convoluted Aman family politics.
Kimanis is one of several Umno strongholds dominated by the Aman brothers, Tan Sri Musa and Datuk Seri Anifah.
Their tentacles are still there although they no longer have a stranglehold.
The Aman family is no longer the powerful oligarchy that they used to be when Musa was chief minister.
Musa, these days, seems to has aged overnight.
He has been sporting a grey goatee and moves about with a walking stick although his actual health situation remains a mystery.
The family’s dominance in Sabah’s politics, seen as nepotism by many, was one of the factors that turned people against Barisan Nasional.
“Anifah is a family friend but I really can’t tell if he will go in. He could be the wild card and Kimanis is going to be very hard to call, ” said Oh.
Musa and Shafie are sworn enemies.
But Shafie has a few things going for him now that he is chief minister.
He has the powers of incumbency and Sabah voters have a tendency to gravitate towards the ruling party.
“My sense is that even if Anifah decides to defend his seat, it will be tough for the Aman brothers to flex their muscles, ” said Henrynus.
The Aman family dynamics has also changed.
The family used to be all about Umno but now it is all kinds of everything.
Anifah, said Henrynus, is partyless after quitting Umno and his family members support Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Pakatan Harapan.
Musa’s son-in-law Datuk Arifin Mohd Arif recently became Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia’s division chief in Kimanis. Arifin is also the assemblyman for Membakut, one of two state seats in the Kimanis parliamentary area.
Musa’s son Yamani Hafez, who is Sipitang MP, had also tried to join Bersatu but his status is still pending.
The pattern here is obvious – the Aman family threw their support behind Dr Mahathir whom they see as a protector because they knew that Shafie was sharpening his knives for them.
But, as Henrynus pointed out, although the Aman family is with Bersatu, it does not necessarily mean that they will support Warisan in the by-election.
Old feelings die hard and it is unlikely that they would want to strengthen Shafie’s hand.
“The Malay base here is quite conservative, the sort who have no quarrel about what Zakir Naik is doing.
“I won’t be surprised if they play the race card and the religious thing to get the Malay vote, ” said Soong.
Kimanis will test Shafie’s support outside of his comfort zone. It will also likely spell the end of the Aman family legacy.
“Umno has been in disarray in Sabah and the by-election will be a test of whether the party is finished or still has hope in the state, ” said Henrynus.
It will also be a gauge on whether Sabah sentiments are affected by the politics in Putrajaya.
The Kimanis by-election, if it happens, will be quite riveting given the embedded political rivalries and the tangled family dynamics taking place amid race and religious sentiments.
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