The only reason Kuala Lumpur is hesitant to approve the registration of a new Usno is because it will mean the death of Umno in Sabah, claims its pro tem leader.
KOTA KINABALU: Is the acronym Usno and its equally colourful founder Datu Mustapha Datu Harun so powerfully etched in the minds of Sabahans that Umno fears its resurrection before the 13th general election?
Is this “fear” the reason why the Umno-led federal government has kept former members of United Sabah National Organisation (Usno) waiting in the wings for approval of their party?
Two years on, ex-members of Usno are fuming over the choke-hold grip the federal government and Umno have on Sabah and its future.
The once all-powerful and controversial Sabah party is – naively, perhaps – relying on the goodwill of Umno, which it helped set root in Sabah in 1991 by dissolving its own moribund party and joining en masse the Peninsular Malaysia-based party.
That goodwill has not been reciprocated, but that has not prevented the “pro tem committee” of the new Usno from anxiously waiting in the wings.
The party’s stop-gap vice-president until it can be registered, Abdullah Sani Abdul Salleh, sees no reason for the delay in registering his party apart from Umno fearing for its own survival.
He said the party wants to field candidates in the 13th general election but is having difficulty getting the consent of the federal-controlled Registrar of Societies (ROS).
Abdullah Sani senses that this reluctance to approve Usno’s revival stems from Umno’s growing insecurity in the state which the Barisan Nasional coalition government of Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak calls its “fixed deposit”.
The new Usno, if approved, is a far cry from the old.
The Usno established by Mustapha in Kampong Ayer, Kudat, on Oct 26, 1961 and dissolved in 1991 to allow all its leaders and members to join Umno en bloc is of a different era.
In the years after Usno’s dissolution even Mustapha and his old party colleagues regretted leaving it by the wayside for Umno, which they had always considered a party bearing no association whatsoever to Sabah.
Now a group of born-again Usno supporters headed by his younger brother, Abdul Salam Datu Harun, believe the time is right for the return of the political party.
The first step was to register the new Usno as an NGO and when that failed, sent in an application to register it as a political party with Mustapha’s fourth son Datu Badaruddin as pro tem head on Oct 26, 2010.
In the party’s Merdeka Day message, the new Usno indicated that it is moving ahead with plans to contest the coming general election in Muslim-majority constituencies in Sabah.
Usno has already joined hands with Jeffrey Kitingan’s Sabah State Reform Party (STAR) with Badaruddin and Jeffrey signing an election pact termed “Semporna Declaration” in February .
“Umno fears the combined political strength of Usno and STAR,” Abdullah Sani said, adding that Usno still commanded respect and loyalty in the state although it was dissolved a long time ago.
This respect and loyalty, he said, was what Umno feared the most and was stalling their bid to get registered as a party.
He believes that Umno, instead of being thankful to Usno for making way for the Peninsula-based party to spread its wings to Sabah, was acting strangely by blocking the party’s return to the state’s political stage.
“There is no other reason for the delay [in registering Usno as a political party].
“If Makkal Sakti’s application for registration was approved within 60 days, why is the ROS sitting on Usno’s application?” he asked.
No respect for Usno
The party’s supporters are angry that Kuala Lumpur has shown no respect to Usno as a party that was instrumental in the formation of Malaysia in 1963, with Mustapha as one of the signatories of the declaration of the new nation called the Federation of Malaysia on Sept 16, 1963.
Abdullah Sani said that even the first prime minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, had wanted Usno to be the main political party to look after the welfare of the people of Sabah.
He quoted Tunku as saying in his message in conjunction with Usno’s 10th anniversary celebration on June 8, 1972 that “…should Usno become weak, Sabah will be sick. If the people are loyal to Malaysia, then it is mandatory upon them to take care of Usno and to follow and support [Tun] Mustapha”.
It is likely that Usno’s registration was revoked to aid the survival of Umno in Sabah and party supporters claim that this clearly indicated a lack of transparency in the process and that government agencies have become tools of the ruling party.
Abdullah Sani pointed out that when Umno itself was once declared illegal by the court, it was swiftly allowed to re-register as a new party under the same name by the ROS.
In the case of Sabah-based Upko, which was also dissolved in December 1967, the ROS approved it as a new political party in the BN coalition and headed by current Minister of Plantation Industries and Commodities Bernard Dompok.
Usno supporters said that by the same token their application should also be given the green light.
The party is planning to contest in about 30 constituencies in the state and will use the results as a referendum on its strength.
Usno was once the backbone of the Sabah Alliance government under the chief ministership of Mustapha from 1967 until 1976.
Mustapha, who died in 1995 at the age of 76, also served as Sabah’s first Yang di-Pertua Negeri and had once served as Minister in-charge of Sabah in the federal government.