Politician Jeffrey Kitingan is admittedly an enigma in Sabah, having moved from one party to another searching for that elusive 'link' called 'compatibility'.
For “hopping” from one political party to another, Sabah’s maverick politician Jeffrey Kitingan has been proclaimed as a “Father of Struggle to Reclaim Sabah” by the party he currently heads – State Reform Party (STAR).
STAR, which also has a chapter in Sarawak, was brought to Sabah by Jeffrey six months ago. The party now claims to have garnered close to 200,000 members.
The former Internal Security Acts (ISA) detainee reminded party supporters in Bingkor, Keningau, over the weekend that the Bornean state called the “Land Below the Wind “ is an independent country and whoever subscribes to a vision of an “independent Sabah” must join STAR.
“As long as we are alive, there is still hope and it is this hope that made the people of Sabah support STAR. The coming general election is an opportunity God is giving us to change the present government for the better,” he said when launching the Bingkor STAR branch.
Jeffrey also explained why he had over the years been switching political parties, saying that he was looking for “solutions” for Sabah and had not found the parties he had initially joined suitable or capable of fixing what was broken.
The former senator and deputy federal minister who hopped from one party to another in a record six times said it had never been done for his personal interest.
Elected as Bingkor assemblyman on a Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) ticket in 1994, a party led by his brother Joseph Pairin, he tried unsuccessfully to take control of PBS.
After failing, he ditched it to join a group of party leaders to form Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah (PBRS).
There he tried but again failed to helm the party, which went on to be headed by Joseph Kurup.
He then quit PBRS to join Pandikar Amin Mulia (now Parliament Speaker) in Angkatan Keadilan Rakyat (Akar) where he tried but failed to be the president.
Akar later dissolved and Pandikar, party leaders and supporters joined Umno.
Jeffrey ditched Pairin twice
Jeffrey, who had also once headed the PBS government “think tank”, then rejoined PBS but only to ditch his brother again.
This time he brought with him six PBS lawmakers to re-join PBRS. He tried again but was unable to unseat Kurup as president.
He left PBRS and submitted an application to join Umno but was rejected.
The Harvard University-trained scholar then joined the opposition fold and was made one of PKR’s leaders, but again decided to say “goodbye” to his latest party when he was sidelined from heading the party in Sabah.
Although the ruling Barisan Nasional leaders have been discrediting Jeffrey for switching parties – some calling him the “King of Sabah political frogs” – he is not disheartened.
Instead he points out that almost all politicians in Sabah, including Chief Minister Musa Aman and Pairin had, in one way or another, also changed political parties.
Musa left Usno for Umno while Pairin left Berjaya and Pasok to form PBS.
Jeffrey said they were all merely looking to see which way the political wind blew before changing course.
He said Musa and Pairin would stick to Umno as long as the party is in government and as long as they have positions. But they would jump to other parties if Umno is no longer ruling.
“They are actually ‘fat frogs’ now, so they don’t jump anymore. They stopped hopping when they have gained positions and comforts for themselves,” Jeffrey told a large, appreciative crowd in Bingkor.
“I switched parties as none of the party I joined can carry my struggle to regain the independence of Sabah. Everyone eventually falls for lucrative positions and self-comforts,” Jeffrey explained.
Jeffrey also warned Sabahans against supporting the Peninsula-based PKR as it would be like “getting out of the frying pan into the fire”.
Supporting non-local opposition parties, he said, would only weaken Sabah and strengthen Malayan hegemony over Sabah.
On the coming general election, Jeffrey announced he would again take on Pairin for the Keningau parliamentary seat and is likely to contest in Bingkor, which is now held by Justin Guka of Upko.
In the last election, Jeffrey contested both seats on PKR ticket.
In the 2008 election, Pairin won Keningau with a majority of 4,264 votes when he garnered 14,598 votes against 10,354 polled by Jeffrey.
Independent candidate Peter Kadou lost his deposit after only securing 560 votes.
Jeffrey almost regained Bingkor when he polled 4,418 votes, losing to Guka by 171 votes after the latter secured 4,589 votes.
Two independents lost their election deposit – Thomas Uling Anggan (164) and Victor Learnadus (129).
This time around, Jeffrey’s political vehicle is STAR, and the party will be contesting most of the state’s 60 seats.
His aim is to gain enough seats to topple the BN state government and fulfil his dream of becoming Sabah chief minister.