Will Anwar’s olive branch to ex-Sabah Umno strongmen pay off?

PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s visit to Sabah recently was likely an attempt to shore up support while testing the waters with two senior Muslim Bumiputera leaders here amid rumours of them joining the party.

(MMO) – While analysts agree that his planned visit to the hometown of former Umno members Tan Sri Pandikar Amin and Datuk Seri Salleh Said Keruak (pic) was to bolster Anwar’s support base, they are undecided as to whether the move will bring any tangible impact to the prime minister-in-waiting just yet.

Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow with the Singapore Institute of International Affairs said it was “open season” for former Umno leaders as they look for options for the future.

“They are wagering on Anwar becoming next PM, and that may or may not pay off. They have no MP seats with them, but for Anwar it’s better than no harvest at all,” he said.

Universiti Utara Malaysia Mohd Azzizudin Mohd Sani said that the current development would benefit the two Sabahans as much as it would Anwar.

“Salleh and Pandikar had both wanted to join Bersatu. Perhaps, somewhere along the way, their membership got rejected. Now I guess they are meeting with Anwar, for their political survival,” he said.

Pandikar is the former Parliament speaker while Salleh is the former minister of multimedia and communications, before the switch in government after GE14.

When news of Anwar’s visit to Sabah post-Malaysia Day first spread, rumours were abound that the two would be joining PKR but they denied the rumours, saying that their invite was on behalf of the United Sabah Bajau Organisation, a non-political platform.

On the day of the visit, Anwar had visited Kota Belud and photos were taken of Pandikar and Anwar holding hands on the beach in traditional Bajau gear, spurring talk of a blossoming relationship.

“I am not sure but if they can bring support to PKR, they might be useful for Anwar. By support, I mean there are many forms.  Can be through machinery, funding etc. They have to really convince Anwar what they can contribute. If not, its difficult for Anwar to accept them,” he said.

Universiti Malaysia Sabah lecturer Lee Kuok Tiung said that the two had their own comeback agendas.

He said that Pandikar may be looking for a bigger platform after his involvement with United Sabah National Organisation (Usno Baru) which as a new party, takes a lot of effort and commitment to establish while Salleh, who has been silent since he and his former comrades in Umno quit last year is nearing the end of his self-imposed one year sabbatical leave.

“With the current uncertainty in the political landscape, there’s room for him to make a comeback. Salleh’s political background history shows he doesn’t aim to become the top leader in the political party that he joins. He’s a loyalist who follows the party’s leader. A party-man,” he said.

“Of course if both of them choose to join PKR, certain people in PKR will be unhappy. But for Anwar I’m sure he’ll try to avoid siding with any group and prefer to see Sabah PKR united.

Lee said that the advantages of having Salleh and Pandikar would be in tackling the factions in PKR, both at the national and state level.

“I’m pretty sure they have their own hardcore supporters behind each of them. And that numbers of supporters can be crucial as a decider in seats where Bajau and Iranun seats like in Kota Belud. There’s no harm in having extra support,” he said, adding that it was still speculation whether they will or would not join.

“Personally the both of them should wait and see first as there are too many uncertainties in Malaysian politics now. No harm in waiting till next year to decide,” said Lee.

Both Lee and University Malaysia Sarawak political science lecturer Arnold Puyok feel that it may be premature for them to join PKR as a strategic move.

“At this stage maybe it’s too early for PKR to accept them. Even though both have the potential to bring more people to PKR and strengthen the party, why jolt the party unnecessarily?,” said Puyok.

Puyok also said there were pros and cons of the two cosying up to Anwar and joining the party.

“It can both strengthen and polarise the party members at the same time. PKR has no strong local leaders at the moment. Anwar needs local figures to make PKR more politically tenable as Sabah politics is still very much personality-based,” he said.

However, it can also polarise the party if the duo’s entry is done in haste and before Anwar becomes prime minister.

Another observer who declined to be named was less than optimistic of the development and described the two as more of a liability due to their background and credibility in national politics.

“The upside is they will have Muslim Bumiputera names, but it is obvious they are looking out for their own political survival. They were rejected by the people and PPBM. They need Anwar more than Anwar needs them.

The analyst said that the narrative they can peddle is that Anwar is the “saviour” who can back Sabah in the battle against Putrajaya who is seen to be sidelining the state again, meanwhile backing Anwar in the event he has to face Dr Mahathir again.

“Anwar at the same time can go back to Putrajaya now saying he has the support of Sabah, including the Bajau community,” he said.