Who’s behind the farmers’ party in Sabah?

By Luke Rintod, FMT

KOTA KINABALU: A new political party that emerged in Sabah about a year ago is raising eyebrows after it appeared to have received the support of two influential leaders – Chief Minister Musa  Aman and former chief minister Harris Salleh.

Who really is behind the Sabah People’s Front Party (SPF)? The question keeps popping up during discussions about politic movements in the state.

It has become all the more interesting since SPF president, Berman Angkap, now sits as one of the directors in a co-operative initiated and led by Harris, his predecessor in Bersekutu which morphed into SPF.

At a function in Keningau last month, Berman and Harris stood side by side with Musa, who lent support to the Koperasi Sabah Kita Berhad, by approving a RM1 million state grant for it to run its contract-livestock-and-farm programme, with mostly SPF and ex-Bersekutu’s members.
Currently the co-operative, which was set up last year, now has 40 integrated farming participants in various districts.

“I hope the grant will be fully utilised to benefit co-operative members,” Musa said when he launched at 3-in-1 integrated farming (cattle, lemon grass, agarwood) by the co-operative at Kampung Ferry in Keningau.

When Berman announced on Dec 15 last year that the Registrar of Societies (ROS) had approved SPF on Dec 8, he stressed that SPF was an opposition party that would fight for Sabah’s rights but it had no plan to work with other opposition parties in Sabah.

He also confidently told the waiting crowd at the airport here then that SPF would definitely join the fray in the coming state election.
“We are going to set up divisions in all 60 state constituencies in preparation for it,” he said.

While everyone seems to agree that there was nothing wrong with Musa granting state money to a co-operative, an initial grant of RM1 million to a co-operative inspired and led among others by an “opposition” party is more than just meets the eye.

“There must be something cooking behind all this,” said some of those who refused to believe that it was normal, arguing that Harris himself is known to have left Umno and sometimes very critical on the ruling party.

Sabah Umno leaders’ interest in SPF?

Political observers here said Berman could be the “temporary” frontman of a group of Umno leaders, mostly those likely be dropped for the coming general election. The rumours even mentioned name of senior state Umno leaders including that of Lajim Ukin, the federal deputy minister of housing and local government, who is also president of his Bisaya community’s cultural association.

They too speculated that it would not be a surprise if about eight Umno leaders would use SPF as their launching pad in the coming general election if they are not re-fielded by Barisan Nasional.

One politician who claimed knowledge of the game-plan, said the group might also be wanting to work with the existing Sabah opposition parties, especially Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) which used to enjoy a close rapport with some of the state Umno leaders, if it serves their mutual benefits.