The ‘other’ Sabah celebration

An alternative commemoration on Aug 31 could be the sign of a future shift in opposition votes.

LAST Wednesday at Kota Marudu, about 125km from the official state-level National Day celebration in Kota Kinabalu, was the rebellious 53rd Sabah Day Commemoration.

The event north of the state capital was organised by United Sabah Alliance (USA), a grouping of Sabah-based opposition parties and like-minded non-governmental organisations.

The main objective of the Sabah Day commemoration was to remind Sabahans that on Aug 31, 1963, the state attained self-government for 16 days. USA also wants Aug 31 to be remembered as Sabah Independence Day.

(Three years ago, Sarawakians campaigned for July 22 to be celebrated as Sarawak Independence Day. On that date 53 years ago, Sarawak was granted self-government on the condition that it would join Malaya, North Borneo and Singapore to form Malaysia. This year, the Sarawak Chief Minister’s office announced that the newly declared state public holiday on July 22 was to be known as Sarawak Independence Day.)

In my home at Subang Jaya, I was following the Sabah Day celebration in the north of my home state via texts and photographs shared on WhatsApp.

One photograph caught my attention: a banner with the iconic image of the late Tun Mohd Fuad Stephens and the late Tun Mustapha Datu Harun, who were among Malaysia’s founding fathers. The message was: “Kembalikan Hak Sabah 1963 (Return Sabah’s 1963 rights). Sabah for Sabahans.”

At the height of their power, the two former Sabah chief ministers were respected leaders. According to legend, Kadazandusun leader Tun Fuad and Suluk leader Tun Mustapha were blood brothers. However, political rivalry made them enemies.

If both had remained united, Sabah’s history might have been different. It might have been like Sarawak that is ruled by Sarawak-based parties.

I checked with Datuk Yong Teck Lee, Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) president, on why the two images were used as a backdrop at the podium.

“Some youths came up with the Tun Fuad and Tun Mustapha banner. It is their version of Sabah heroes. I think the idea was to remind people of unity that led to indepen­dence for Sabah,” he said.

Seeing the sea of Sabah and North Borneo flags carried by Sabahans gave me the im­pression that it is Ini Kali Lah (this is the time) for USA consisting of Parti Solidarity Tanah Airku (STAR), Parti Cinta Sabah (PCS) and SAPP.

STAR is led by Bingkor assemblyman Datuk Dr Jeffrey Kitingan, PCS by Tamparuli assemblyman Datuk Wilfred Bumburing and SAPP by ex-Sabah chief minister Yong.

I tweeted a photograph of the sea of Saba­hans and Sabah flags with the text: “Is this the rise of Sabah-based opposition in the state?”

In GE13, the Sabah-based opposition parties failed to rise to the occasion. Opposition-minded Sabahans voted “Lain Kali Lah” (another time) to them. They were swept aside by the tsunami of the opposition Kuala Lumpur-based parties.

Out of the 12 Sabah seats (from 60 state seats) won by the opposition, all but one were swept by PKR and DAP of Pakatan Rakyat (which has since become Pakatan Harapan). The only seat won by a Sabah-based opposition party was Dr Jeffrey’s in Bingkor.

“There was a euphoria that change would come led by (Datuk Seri) Anwar Ibrahim,” said Yong in explaining why most of the opposition votes in Sabah went to Pakatan Rakyat.

The big Sabah question in GE14 is whether opposition-minded Sabahans will overwhel­mingly remain with Kuala Lumpur-based opposition parties such as PKR and DAP or switch their support to Sabah-based opposition parties such as STAR, PCS and SAPP.

Yong thinks they’ll swing to USA. He cited two factors which he thought boosted the Sabah-based opposition’s cause: the disarray within the Kuala Lumpur-based Opposition and Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem’s call for more autonomy for the state.

“I sense that local Sabah parties will do better than in GE13. The key is USA unity,” he said, adding that Pakatan Harapan is falling apart.

“Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s overbearing presence in the opposition confused the public about what the opposition is.”

Interestingly, Yong’s view was echoed by a Sabah DAP insider.

“Pakatan Harapan is going down in Sabah because in the state Dr Mahathir is a huge liability,” said the insider, who requested anonymity, as he didn’t want to face the wrath of his party with his point of view.

Rightly or wrongly, many Sabahans link Dr Mahathir to Project IC – the plan to give identity cards to illegal immigrants to vote. During the hearing for the Royal Commission of Inquiry on illegal immigrants in Sabah, the former prime minister denied the link.

After its success in the GE13, PKR and DAP have disappointed Sabah voters when two PKR assemblymen and a DAP assemblyman jumped to join Barisan Nasional or to be Barisan-friendly.

Another blow came when Bumburing, who won Tamparuli under the PKR flag, left the party to be president of PCS.

The political chatter in Sabah is that more will abandon the Pakatan Harapan parties. A civil war in Sabah DAP might prompt one of its assemblymen to jump. And a PKR lawma­ker might leave his party and join forces with Semporna MP Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal, the former Umno vice-president.

Tongues are also wagging in Sabah about the future of Sabah opposition chief Datuk Lajim Ukin of PKR. On Wednesday, the Klias assemblyman told the PKR leadership to resolve internal bickering ahead of GE14.

“The party leadership needs to stop squabbling among themselves and focus on strategising on our strength, including in forging co-operation with local parties,” Lajim said.

“Lajim has given an ultimatum to PKR pre­sident Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail to grant Sabah PKR full autonomy. Lajim is laying the groundwork to leave PKR,” an opposition leader told me.

Going back to the Sabah Day celebration, I was curious to know whether Shafie attended it. I checked and was told that he was invited but he couldn’t make it as he had a prior appointment.

“Is Shafie with USA?” I asked Yong.

“He has yet to respond to the open invitation to co-operate with USA,” he said.

“Will he be able to galvanise support for opposition in Muslim seats?” I asked Yong.

“He can rattle Umno in some areas and possibly beat Barisan in some mixed areas,” he said.

Shafie is expected to launch a Sabah-based party soon. His party might tilt the support of Sabahans from Kuala Lumpur-based opposition parties to Sabah-based opposition parties.

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Opinion , Philip Golingai , columnist


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