Sabah politics is about to be tested, with Umno framing the coming by-election as a referendum for the controversial Sabah Temporary Pass for illegal immigrants issue.
KIMANIS is not Tanjung Piai. And Tanjung Piai is not Kimanis.
If you expect to see Barisan Nasional’s 15,000-majority whopping of Pakatan Harapan in the Tanjung Piai Parliamentary by-election happen in Kimanis on Jan 18, think again. This by-election will be different. This is Sabah politics. The dynamics are different from that of Peninsular Malaysia.
Kimanis is a straight fight between Datuk Karim Bujang (Pakatan Harapan-allied Parti Warisan Sabah) and Datuk Mohamad Alamin (Barisan Nasional’s Umno). The constituency, about 60km from Kota Kinabalu, is sandwiched between the eastern foothills of the mountainous Crocker Range and the South China Sea.
There are 29,664 voters in the seat with some 20,000 Muslim bumiputra who are mostly Malay Brunei, and about 8,000 Kadazandusun with fewer than 1,000 Chinese and others. In the Tanjung Piai by-election in Johor, the Muslim voters overwhelmingly supported Barisan candidate Datuk Seri Wee Jeck Seng of MCA. Don’t expect this in Kimanis, however. Because the Muslims in Kimanis are different from those in Tanjung Piai.
Firstly, they are mostly Malay Brunei. Secondly, like most Sabahans, they don’t live in racial silos. Many have family members from different religions and races. Take Mohamad, the Umno candidate. His father is Kadazandusun and his mother is Malay Brunei.
As Universiti Malaysia Sabah senior lecturer and political analyst Dr Zaini Othman explains, the socio-
political demographic setting of Muslims in the two constituencies is very different.
“Traditional elements, via-a-vis parochialism (family ties and warlordism), still, to me, have a strong influence in determining the political behaviour of the majority of Muslim voters in Kimanis. Looking at the present situation (after almost a week of campaigning), it seems that such elements have a ‘greater influence’ on their voting decision, ” he says.
In Tanjung Piai, a majority of the Chinese voters gave a thumbs down to Pakatan at the ballot box. Will the Chinese community in Kimanis follow Tanjung Piai’s anti-government direction?
“The social demographic setting of Chinese voters in Kimanis – about 6% – is vastly different with that of Chinese voters in Tanjung Piai.
“A majority of them are traders and hawkers, their daily lives and activities are very much in a symbiotic and interdependent relationship with the rest of the voters in Kimanis – so their mind set will be extremely different from that of the Tanjung Piai, ” Zaini says.
Institute of Strategic Analysis and Policy Research (Insap) head of research Dr Choong Pui Yee points out that in Tanjung Piai, both the Muslim and non-Muslim voters were generally angry at Pakatan and had chosen to vote for BN. It was a collective protest vote.
“In the case of Kimanis, it is hard to tell because local dynamics are different. It would not be fair to compare Kimanis and Tanjung Piai.
“The local issues in Kimanis are starkly different from Tanjung Piai’s. In Kimanis, the electoral battle is being influenced by the PSS (Sabah Temporary Pass for illegal immigrants) issue and the personalities of the contesting candidates.”
Choong also points out that Wee had an edge in Tanjung Piai because he was a familiar face whereas in Kimanis, the incumbent MP, Datuk Seri Anifah Aman, is not defending his seat so contender Mohamad Alamin may not have Anifa’s strong personal factor.
Anifah had been MP of Kimanis since 2004. Before that he was MP of Beaufort – which consisted part of the Kimanis constituency – from 1999 to 2004. The Kimanis seat was declared vacant after the Federal Court, on Dec 2, upheld the Election Court’s ruling that nullified Anifah’s 156-majority victory in GE14 in 2018. In a strategic out-of-the-box move, Anifah is not defending the seat he has held a member of Umno. The politician, who quit Umno in September 2018, is focused on establishing a Sabah-based party. However, he is backing Umno in the by-election.
The PSS is a uniquely Sabah issue. The Opposition has accused the Warisan-led Sabah government of using it to legitimise the perennial illegal immigrant problem that haunts the state. Warisan has denied the accusation.
The perception of some Sabahans before GE14 that Warisan is a pro-illegal immigrant party has persisted until now. Opposition parties continue to allege that Warisan is a pro-Filipino and pro-illegal immigrant party because Warisan president Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal is from Semporna where many Suluk reside.
The Sabah Chief Minister took offence with Umno deputy president Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan saying that the Kimanis by-election is a fight between “Malaysians and Filipinos”.
“It is cynical to indicate I am Filipino. How can I be when I am a Sabahan and a Malaysian? How can I be Deputy Defence Minister in the past? Don’t go to the extent of questioning my heritage and background, ” Shafie has reportedly said.
Warisan has also hit back at Umno, alleging that it was that party that is responsible for the influx of illegal immigrants in the state.
Umno is framing the by-election as a referendum on the controversial PSS. It is saying that a vote for Barisan is a vote against PSS and that a vote for Warisan is a vote for the proposal.
“PSS is very much an issue among the KDM (Kadazan Dusun Murut) group of voters, whereas development and social wellbeing is very much the focus and issue among the majority of Kimanis voters. Of the two, so far development and social wellbeing are very much centre-staged in every political campaign of both Warisan and Barian, ” says Zaini, the political analyst.
Political researcher Choong says the key issues in the by-election are PSS, local economic development and employment opportunities.
Putting aside issues, the by-election in this semi-rural seat might be won by carpet bombing (a Sabah term that means voters bombed with money).
Neutrals, who want an alternative candidate sans the Umno DNA, see the Kimanis fight as between ex Umno and Umno. It is iri om iri (a Kadazandusun phrase which means “same old, same old”).
The Warisan candidate, Karim, is a former five-term Umno assemblyman for Bongawan, one of the two state seats under Kimanis. Umno dropped Karim in GE13 and Mohamad replaced him as the Bongawan candidate. Mohamad failed to defend his seat in GE14, losing to Warisan’s Dr Daud Yusof by 795 votes.
Warisan has whacked Barisan for failing to develop Kimanis and Sabah when it was in power. However, when it points one finger at Barisan, three fingers are pointing back at itself. Umno has pointed out that Warisan president Shafie was a former Umno vice-president and former Rural and Regional Development Minister.
Post GE14, Sabah is no longer Umno’s fixed deposit. It used to win all the seats it contested in the state.But in the 2018 general elections, Umno only won seven of the 14 Parliamentary seats it contested. And all the Umno MPs in Sabah except Kinabatangan’s Datuk Seri Bung Moktar Radin (now Sabah Umno chief) have joined Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia.
This makes Sabah politics untested. There are at least four viable parties – Warisan, Umno, Bersatu and possibly Anifah’s yet to be launched Sabah-based party – vying for the Muslim seats in the state.
The by-election will indicate whether the Sabahan Muslims favour Warisan or Umno.
It will also be some sort of a referendum on the Warisan/Pakatan/Upko state government. If Warisan loses the by-election, Kimanis is Tanjung Piai – a wake-up call– for the state government.
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