But is the Kimanis victory monumental enough to launch more wins for the coalition?
IF the Kimanis by-election was a sea battle, the fight would have been between the sinking ship of Barisan Nasional and the armada of the state government led by Parti Warisan Sabah.
Barisan’s ship nearly capsized after its Sabah-based component parties – Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS), United Progressive Kinabalu Organisation (Upko), Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah (PBRS) and Liberal Democrat Party (LDP) – ditched the ruling state coalition when it collapsed days after GE14. In Sabah, Barisan was left with Umno and MCA.
In its once fixed deposit state, Sabah Umno had disintegrated.
Almost all of its 17 assemblymen and seven MPs in the state jumped ship to board Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, Warisan and Upko. Kinabatangan MP Datuk Seri Bung Moktar Radin remained in the party and was appointed Sabah Umno chief.
The armada of the state government – consisting of Warisan, Bersatu, DAP and Upko – got bigger and stronger as it gobbled up opposition assemblymen and MPs from Umno and PBS.
For many observers, it was a forgone conclusion who would triumph in the battle between a sinking ship versus an armada.
But just like a script from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, Sabah Umno, led by the swashbuckling Bung Moktar, and Barisan created an upset.
The gelombang biru (blue wave) of Barisan sank the sailing ship logo of Warisan in Kimanis. Umno’s Datuk Mohamad Alamin defeated Warisan’s Datuk Karim Bujang in a straight fight by 2,029 votes.
I was on the ground to get a feel of the Kimanis by-election. It is a parliamentary constituency,
about an hour’s drive from Kota Kinabalu, where RM2 lang coffee (cold local coffee in a bottle) is sold at Kedai Sam Hing, an 80-year-old wooden shop in Bongawan town.
During the Kimanis by-election, driving on the half-completed Pan Borneo highway connecting the three main towns (Kimanis, Bongawan and Membakut) in the parliamentary constituency, I could not see any evidence that Barisan had sunk.
Flag for flag, the blue of Barisan equally matched the white of Warisan. It was evident that the Barisan machinery – to be exact Umno’s – was intact and formidable.
It also showed that money for money, Umno had buried treasure that could take on the war chest of Warisan, the backbone of the Sabah government. In a semi-rural seat like Kimanis, cash is a kingmaker.
During the first week of campaigning, when I was asked who would win Kimanis, I said 55 to Warisan and 45 to Barisan. The feeling on the ground was that Warisan had an edge. It was, after all, the government of the day and voters were unlikely to rock the boat.
However, during the second and final week of campaigning, I changed my forecast to 50-50 – “Warisan with a slight edge but there’s a possibility of an ubah balik (change back) surprise for Barisan.”
The Warisan leaders I spoke to were confident of winning the by-election by a 3,000 majority. They wanted a 5,000 margin of victory so that Sabah Chief Minister and Warisan president Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal could menang bergaya (win with style).
Barisan and opposition leaders were upbeat that the opposition coalition would pull through. A Sabah Umno leader said he could feel victory was in hand, but he told the public that Barisan was the underdog so that his campaign workers were not complacent.
A PBS politician said based on his reading, Barisan would win by 2,000 votes.
Many Kimanis voters told me it was 50-50. They also said they didn’t know who would win as they sensed that there were those wearing the white T-shirt of Warisan who would tukar baju (change shirt) on polling day. There were also whispers of a possible betrayal by Warisan’s Pakatan Harapan ally.
The result turned out to be an ubah balik surprise.
The voters didn’t buy the Warisan’s Kimanis by-election tagline, “Reject BN. Enough is enough.” They didn’t have enough of Umno and Barisan.
How did Barisan stay afloat in the Kimanis?
There were minor issues such as the perceived stalled Pan Borneo highway project that made voters angry with the state government. They could see that that work on the highway had practically stopped after Barisan lost Federal power in 2018.
Another minor issue was the ethnic rivalry among Muslim voters.
“Most of the Muslim voters in Kimanis are Brunei Malays. It is a community that has a royal connection (with the Brunei sultanate). They don’t want a Bajau from the east coast of Sabah to lord over them, ” said an intelligence officer, referring to the ethnicity of the Sabah Chief Minister.
The GE14 issues, which contributed to Umno losing its stronghold of Bongawan (one of the two state seats in the Kimanis constituency) by a 795-majority to Warisan, such as the Goods and Services Tax, then prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and then Sabah chief minister Tan Sri Musa Aman, no longer existed.
To understand the dynamics of Kimanis, we need to know the grip of the Aman family (former Sabah Chief Minister Musa and his younger brother former Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman) on the seat.
Anifah has been its MP since 2004 and he was MP of Beaufort – consisting 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, which he won under the Barisan ticket in 2018.
The politician, who quit Umno in September 2018, did not defend his seat. He, however, backed Umno in the by-election. His open support for Barisan is one of the factors contributing to its victory.
Warisan was overconfident. It thought it had already won the by-election before polling. When leaders were told that there
were polls that said there was a possibility that Barisan could win, they didn’t believe it.
The talk among Warisan insiders about an hour after polling closed with the ballot papers showing the unfavourable results was that Bersatu, its Pakatan ally, had let it down by failing to deliver votes.
On why Barisan won Kimanis, a veteran Sabah politician said: “PSS (Sabah Temporary Pass for illegal immigrants) and Membakut (referring to the state seat which Bersatu held after the assemblyman ditched Umno).”
Datuk Ariffin Arif, the assemblyman of Membakut, which is one of the two state seats in Kimanis, had deserted Umno to join Bersatu.
Ariffin is the son-in-law of Musa, the former chief minister who has a long-standing bitter rivalry with Shafie, even when both were powerful warlords in Umno.
Warisan had expected Ariffin to deliver the Bersatu votes. However, the Membakut assemblyman could not or would not do what he had promised.
The emotive PSS issue swayed some Ori (original) Sabahans, who were worried that the illegal immigrants were marginalising them in their state, to vote against Warisan.
Barisan and the anti-PSS parties and politicians like PBS, PBRS, Sabah Progressive Party, STAR Sabah and Anifah had framed the Kimanis by-election as a vote for Warisan is a vote for the proposal.
But how big is PSS as a factor? It was big enough for the Warisan-led Sabah government that it scrapped PSS after its Kimanis shipwreck.
Many outside Sabah saw the Kimanis result as a signal from the voters that they were unhappy with the performance of the Pakatan government led by Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
Most political analysts who were on the ground would tell them that it was local issues and not national issues which were the concern of the Sabahan voters. Mahathir was hardly mentioned in the campaign trail that was clearly a mini referendum on the Warisan-led state government.
For Warisan, the Kimanis defeat is a wake-up call that many voters perceive its administration of the state as iri om iri (a Kadazandusun phrase which means “same old, same old”) as Barisan, the previous state government.
For Barisan, the Kimanis victory is as beautiful as Helen of Troy’s face. Will the sweet triumph launch a thousand of ships for the coalition?
Did you find this article insightful?
81% readers found this article insightful