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Taking a leaf from Sarawak’s politics

 | June 7, 2011

Musa may call for a state election if only to consolidate his grip on Sabah – and keep Najib's Umno commandos out of the state.

KUALA LUMPUR: Sabah Chief Minister Musa Aman has learnt a thing or two from his peer Taib Mahmud in Sarawak.

The most important lesson is that you should call the shots in your own state.

To be able to do that you should, like Taib, not overrate the role of “big brothers” from Putrajaya.

Some would say Taib can talk because his Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB) is not Umno and that Umno has no “real” influence in Sarawak.

But in Sabah, Musa is Umno chief. And Sabah Umno, they stress, is under Kuala Lumpur’s thumb.

Still, what is to stop Musa from stepping out of the shadows and consolidating his political position, his state administration and his wealth when under threat?

If Taib is Sarawak, then Musa is Sabah. If Taib is a billionaire, so too is Musa.

If Taib is protective of his turf and influence, so is Musa.

Already rumours abound that Umno president Najib Tun Razak is planting his men in Sabah because he wants Musa out.

Open war

What Najib couldn’t do in Sarawak with Taib, he wants it done in Sabah.

His boys have already packed enough meat on the arrest of Sabah businessman Micheal Chia at the Chek Lap Kok Airport in Hong Kong, among others, to kill off Musa.

Chia, who is said to be Musa’s proxy, was detained with S$16 million in cash and the Hong Kong authorities are still investigating the money-laundering case.

But for Najib to pull the plug, Musa must first fall.

Politically, Najib has seconded his Umno “commandos” to Sabah to stir the cauldron of dissatisfaction.

Their warlord is Mohd Shafie Apdal.

To stoke up the fire, Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin recently declared that Sabah Umno is facing a “cold war” within.

The timely expression of “concern” gave vent to public accusations that Musa and his men were blocking development “brought in” by Shafie under his federal rural and regional development ministry.

Musa has denied Shafie’s allegations, saying Sabah needs allocations from the federal government and that Shafie was lying.

But opposition Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) president Yong Teck Lee and those in the business circles in Sabah have in the past also accused Musa’s state government of stalling Shafie-linked projects.

According to the rumour mill, Musa had allegedly demanded that all federal funds be channelled through his state government.

But Shafie has refused to do so.

Although Shafie is seen not to have “major” support in Sabah Umno, he derives his clout from being Najib’s man.

Curbing Shafie’s influence

Musa does want this “clout”. He does not want Shafie to get any credit from funding projects and by default, gaining influence in Sabah Umno.

Shafie’s camp in Sabah include the likes of Pandikar Amin Haji Mulia, Amir Kahar Mustapha, Salleh Said Keruak and “semi-independent” Bung Moktar Radin, who sees himself as Najib’s boy.

All are members of Usbo (United Sabah Bajau Organisation), which is also seeking to play a more political role in the state. The organisation secretly harbours a desire to get back the chief minister’s seat once held by the Suluk community. Shafie is a Suluk descended.

But Musa has subtlely worked his influence on Shafie’s camp.

He made both Pandikar and Salleh state speakers and brought them into his camp.

Then he removed Sabah Umno Youth chief Azman Ruslan, a Shafie’s man.

Khairy said that Azman was removed from his post to prevent the Sabah Umno “cold war” from escalating.

It’s no more a covert operation in Sabah, it is open war.

There are no more rumours of unhappiness and seething anger among members, but only “directives” from Musa that Shafie should not be invited to any of the Umno branch and division meetings.

Wealthy Musa, like Taib, will consolidate with or without Najib.

While Musa might not be liked in Sabah, he has the money to do as he pleases and most say he can handle this “cold war” problem if Kuala Lumur does not muscle in.

State election

Meanwhile in Sabah, according to the grapevine, Musa may assert himself and call for a state-level election.

A political analyst from Kota Kinabalu, who spoke on condition of anonymity, believes the move “may be expensive but will make sense for Musa”.

He said that it would not surprise him if Najib too saw merit in an early Sabah election, provided the prime minister sets aside his ego.

An early poll, he said, would allow Umno-Barisan Nasional (BN) to gauge its strength in Sabah, much like how it has evaluated BN’s potential “catchment” in Sarawak.

“They (Musa and BN) could do this to test the waters… frankly, Musa will benefit from such an early election. He needs to prove to Najib that he has the numbers at the state level,” he said.

His only concern is how will the government explain why it was spending more money on such an exercise when it was known that holding elections is expensive.

“How will the government explain this now that it has cut subsidies and allowed prices to increase? Will it not be a waste of money?” he asked.

BN’s advantage

Another observer said that a state election would allow BN to calculate how many MP seats it will win or lose in the general election.

“It is not a far-fetched idea given recent evidence of disillusion with the federal government in Sarawak.

“The changes in the peninsula and the Sarawak election have shown that (opposition coalition) Pakatan Rakyat is gaining strength in urban areas and the government now has to calculate its chances in Sabah.

“The government can calculate based on the number of state assembly seats it loses to see how many MP seats it could lose in the general election.

“For example, the voting trend in the state constituencies could indicate how secure is the BN’s hold on an MP’s seat,” said the observer.

A retired politician, when contacted, was of the opinion that a Sabah state-level election would work to “BN’s advantage”.

“It may be to the BN government’s advantage to go for a preemptive strike considering that Pakatan and SAPP are still squabbling,” he said.

Naysayers in Umno Kuala Lumpur, however, feel that Najib is unlikely to go with the idea.

“It’s too risky,” a party insider said in an SMS to FMT recently.

Not surprising, really. Kuala Lumpur “thinkers” are known to have very little insight into how the earth moves in Sabah and Sarawak.


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