Sabah natives at a crossroads

(FMT) – A once revered leader of Sabah’s KadazandusunMurut (KDM) community, Joseph Pairin Kitingan now stands accused of ‘sacrificing’ the ‘dignity’ of his people for politics.

KOTA KINABALU: Barisan Nasional leaders in Sabah and some of their supporters are making last-ditch efforts to win back the hearts and minds of the Kadazandusun and Murut community as the country gears up for the 13th general election.

It is an uncomfortable time for the community, which once feared for its independence and unity. It has long since splintered along political lines much to the satisfaction of those who would otherwise not stand a chance of ruling a united Sabah.

Estranged community chief or Huguan Siou Joseph Pairin Kitingan has been under siege for several years now for having failed to out-manoeuvre Umno, the Malay-dominated peninsula-based party.

That he has lost the respect of many in his community is indisputable. It has been a steep descent from the time he was acclaimed as a hero in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Pro-government groups and individuals in the community fearful of losing their special status and positions in the present government are worried that their leader will fall on the BN sword as the political winds change direction in the state. The marking is on the walls.

“Pairin is no good. He has sacrificed the community. He is playing politics. We have no dignity,” is the common refrain uttered by frustrated younger Kadazandusuns and indeed some of the older generation who believe many of their leaders have sold them out for political expediency.

Against this backdrop, Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) officials are going all-out to stem a feared backlash against local political leaders who talk tough and compromise principles readily.

Soothing feelings of betrayal

A measure of their desperation could be seen in the bombardment that has started in the compliant mainstream media which has come out with a flood of reports praising the BN, including three prominent reports defending the deputy chief minister and attacking the opposition yesterday.

Apologists have been writing lengthy columns to soothe the feelings of betrayal by Sabah BN party leaders, especially Pairin, who many feel is, if not fully responsible, complicit in Sabah’s surrender.

“There is no question… Umno and the peninsular parties (MCA, Gerakan, MIC) and the BN government will be booted out if Sabah party leaders can get their act together,” said Billy, a middle-aged businessman who would only give his first name as he has a government contract and fears speaking out.

“People will vote anyone who will sincerely fight for Sabah. It has to be a whole party… not individuals. They are fed up.

“If (Sabah BN coalition members) LDP, PBS, Upko tie up with (the opposition coalition) Pakatan (Rakyat), they will sweep the election… no problem,” he said.

Sabah Umno chairman, Chief Minister Musa Aman, is aware of this. Musa himself is no sure bet in his Sungai Sibuga seat in Sandakan and, according to one political source in Umno, can only win if he “buys” the voters.

“Not many people really like him. They like his money,” said a source, explaining why the multi-millionaire, some say billionaire chief minister can still come out a winner in an election despite his unpopularity.

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