What’s the real deal in Sabah?

One theory is that Anwar Ibrahim’s obsession with local seats is because he has been ‘assigned’ to clear the way for Umno to retain Sabah.

Pushparani Thilaganathan, FMT

Today is the beginning of the day of reckoning in Sabah and across Peninsular Malaysia. It is the much-awaited nomination day preceding the country’s 13th general election on May 5, seven days before the infamous May 13, 1969.

In Sabah, it is speculated that some 146 opposition candidates have joined the fray against the Barisan Nasional’s 60 state seats. And this is not taking into account emerging Independents.

Nominations began at 9am today and ended at 10am. However, the final list of candidates for the GE13 should be known by noon.

On the parliamentary front, 48 opposition hopefuls will be contesting the 25 seats in Sabah.

In the 2008 GE, the Sabah Barisan Nasional pact which included Sabah Progressive People’s Party (SAPP) – now in the opposition – made a clean sweep of both both parliamentary and state seats. BN only lost Kota Kinabalu parliamentary constituency and the Tanjung state seats to DAP.

The scenario this time is vastly different.

The onset of 2013 has seen a series of unexpected socio-political twists and turns culminating (perhaps) in the Registrar of Societies’ (ROS) initial and shocking letter “de-recognising” DAP’s central committee members and the allegedly “engineered” invasion of Lahad Datu vis-à-vis Sabah by the Sulu army on Feb 9.

Looking at Sabah in isolation, the state is boiling over with resentment against Umno-Barisan Nasional on the KDM and (now) Chinese front.

Sabah PKR in particular, which is contesting the bulk of Pakatan Rakyat’s seats, is simmering with discontent over its national leaders’ disregard and disrespect of local sentiments and decisions.

The cause of this is Anwar Ibrahim’s preferential treatment of BN defectors Lajim Ukin and Wilfred Bumburing – Beaufort and Tuaran incumbent MPs. Both defected in July last year and pledged allegiance to Anwar but declined to join PKR.

Under Anwar’s encouragement, both had set up refom movements. Bumburing helms APS (Angkatan Perubahan Sabah) and Lajim PPPS (Pertubuhan Pakatan Perubahan Sabah). Both movements – not parties – were given a collective 10 parliamentary and 23 state seats.

Trojan horse

The decision is seen by many observers here as working against Sabah PKR and has raised questions over Anwar’s real agenda in Sabah.

If you believe in the adage “a leopard doesn’t change its spots”, then you will possibly believe in the theory that Anwar is the trojan horse and that his “assignment” in Sabah was to clear the path for a Umno win in the May 5 polls.

Anwar’s political base is not in Sabah. It is in the urban pockets of Peninsular Malaysia.

He rides on PAS for the semi-urban and rural votes. He cares as much about the KadazanDusunMurut welfare as he does the Indians.

How then can one explain his obsession to contest a majority of Sabah state seats? PKR and its allies APS and PPPS will collectively contest 19 parliamentary and 43 state seats. They have taken the bulk of Pakatan Rakyat’s share in Sabah.

Why would he do this, if there wasn’t a plan?

How do you explain his determination to dilute independent local party participation – SAPP and State Reform Party (STAR) – in the polls, if his sole interest is in wresting Putrajaya?

Sabah has 25 parliamentary seats and both SAPP and STAR have long since told Anwar and Pakatan to focus their might on these seats. Both SAPP and STAR had promised their backing.

But Anwar played poker with localised politics and politicians. He dilly-dallied over his commitment towards the Sabah for Sabahans agenda, and over decentralising decisions to local leaders until he anchored Lajim and Bumburing.

Political intrigue

Said PKR Tuaran division chief Ansari Abdullah: “It is intriguing that the government is aware of this [fact that both APS and PPPS are movements and not parties] but they are not taking any action… or is this also part of their plan?”

Political observers here are advancing the theory that Anwar’s PKR needs only 10 state seats to go into “partnership” with Umno, which is speculated to win at least 30 seats.

There are 60 seats in Sabah’s Legislative Assembly.

Local opposition STAR together with a pro tem Usno Baru group are expected to contest 51 state and 19 parliamentary seats. SAPP is eyeing eight parliamentary and 41 state seats.

Both these parties are campaigning on the Borneo agenda and Sabah for Sabahans platforms.

Anwar knows the Sabah Constitution will not allow the Pakatan pact to form a state government.

It has to be a single party with the most state seats.

DAP and PAS are not in the Sabah equation. In this polls, DAP is expected to contest four parliamentary and eight state seats. PAS will field two parliamentary and seven state candidates.

Looking at Sabah in isolation and bearing in mind the sequence of events since 2008 , many of those random SMSes which FMT received over the period seem to make sense.

For instance in 2011, FMT sources said Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak and Anwar had secretly met and spoken on issues, among them, were Anwar’ daughter Nurul Izzah and of him “going slow”.