Sabah’s opposition front appears to be moving towards unity, but the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition seemingly still holds the upper hand in the 13th general election that must be called by next April, despite the recent defections to the Pakatan Rakyat (PR).
Although there was momentum gained from the recent crossovers, the opposition in Sabah still has its work cut out in avoiding three-corner fights in the next elections.
Sabah’s colourful opposition ― which includes the State Reform Party (STAR), Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP), and federal opposition Pakatan Rakyat (PR) ― recently added the newly-formed Angkatan Perubahan Sabah (APS) and Pakatan Perubahan Sabah (PPS) to its fold.
Beaufort MP Datuk Seri Lajim Ukin and Tuaran MP Datuk Seri Wilfred Bumburing had last month quit BN, and respectively formed the PR-aligned PPS and APS. They were last week joined by Senator Datuk Maijol Mahap.
STAR president Datuk Dr Jeffrey Kitingan told The Malaysian Insider that his party is eyeing between 20 and 30 state seats, and anywhere from seven to 12 parliamentary seats.
He did not dismiss the possibility of multiple candidates from the opposition, saying: “We’ve already calculated three corner fights ― two opposition, one BN ― it’s OK for us.”
But when pressed about seats that were expected to be closely fought, he said that “these areas we have to work harder and also try to reduce the overlap.”
When asked about Bumburing and his APS, Kitingan said “we don’t really worry about him because we’ve been working very hard on this area.”
He was confident that the recent defections would not “affect” STAR’s supporters, saying that Bumburing and Lajim would be “bringing in support from BN side. Their departure will only affect the BN.”
Kitingan said that the opposition parties in Sabah are “trying to forge a loose coalition” but claimed that PKR’s representatives did not turn up during discussions last Monday.
“So we will see whether they are sincere.”
When asked who will lead the Sabah opposition front, he said: “The United Borneo Alliance (UBA) is already operating as a group. So I think it is better it be led by local leaders rather than Kuala Lumpur (parties).”
However Sabah PKR’s Darell Leiking said “the goal is more important than where you are from,” adding that being a leader in PKR did not mean that he was “less of a Sabahan” compared to leaders from parties such as STAR and SAPP.
When asked whether Sabah-based parties or federal opposition PR would lead, the PKR Penampang division chief said the opposition should move away from such “polemic” to focus on more important issues.
“I think the whole idea is to have a very solid, unified opposition to face a common political enemy,” he said, adding that they would be focused on replacing the “BN regime.”
Darell said the SAPP is “very friendly with PR”, adding that the party’s president, Datuk Yong Teck Lee, is “very clear that he supports PR to form the government (and) PR will surely accord the same support.”
PKR vice-president Chua Tian Chang said a key issue would be seat allocations: “(If) we manage to get one-to-one (contests, that) is already a great achievement”.
But he said “if two parties are working on the same seat, the strength (of the opposition) is stronger”, saying there is “no reason why we cannot co-operate.”
He was responding to questions on how STAR and APS, with both focusing on the Kadazandusun Murut communities, would work together.
“Only BN want to create an impression that there is a split (in votes), where’s the split?” asked Chua, who is seen as the pointman for defections in Sabah.
Chua said that any crossovers would only require PKR to give up seats, saying that “it won’t concern SAPP and STAR.”
He was upbeat about voter support, saying that people on the ground are “very enthusiastic... working together to fight BN.”
APS information chief Lesaya Lopog Sorudim said the “focus is one fighting against one so the opposition votes will not be split and benefit BN.”
Lesaya said Anwar had given the APS seats in mainly Kadazandusun Murut areas, adding that APS leader Bumburing was given the “mandate” to “discuss with STAR and SAPP to ensure a win-win situation”.
DAP Sabah publicity secretary Chan Foong Hin told The Malaysian Insider that the party still aims to contest 20 state seats and 10 parliamentary seats, but said “it’s too early to conclude how many seats finally we will contest” as negotiations are still going on.
Chan said that PR in Sabah now has “additional partners” with Lajim and Bumburing pulling out from BN, and said this was viewed “positively”.
“Of course seat negotiations will be readjusted or fine tuned again to accommodate ... every partner under Pakatan Rakyat. We are open to talk with any party as long as they support PR and honour our Buku Jingga,” he said.
Federal seats in east Malaysia’s Sabah and Sarawak are expected to be BN’s focal point come the general election as both states, including the federal territory of Labuan, contribute a significant 57 seats, or 25 per cent of the 222 Parliamentary seats available.
In Election 2008, BN lost its customary two-thirds parliamentary majority largely due to significant losses in the peninsula, where it won just 85 seats while the opposition swept 80 seats.
BN’s saving grace was in Sabah, Sarawak and Labuan where the coalition trounced the opposition and made a near-clean sweep, winning 55 parliamentary seats to the opposition’s two.
However with the recent defections, BN now held 53 parliamentary seats in east Malaysia, while the opposition’s score is now four.