Umno, which is eyeing the Sepanggar seat, is worried about SAPP's 'formidable' sway in the constituency.
The swagger and crowing of Umno leaders that the state is their vote bank and ‘fixed deposit’ has become muffled and at least one Umno leader has acquired a new tone as the party focusses on recapturing one of three parliamentary seats held by opposition parties.
Sabah Umno deputy liaison chairman Salleh Tun Said, a former Sabah chief minister, admits that it would be an uphill task for Barisan Nasional to wrest the Sepanggar parliamentary seat from opposition Sabah Progressive Party.
The all-hands-on-deck call to Sepangar Umno division led by Jumat Idris to get BN component party members to work together so that the coalition would be able to take back the seat it lost when SAPP left the BN also serves another more subtle purpose.
BN parties are known to be fighting over the seat that Umno covets.
The ruling coalition has not given a clue which BN component party will be selected to field candidates in the coming election, but based on political activities over the past few months, Umno is the favourite, ahead of United Pasok Momogun Kadazandusun Murut Organisation (Upko), Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS), Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah (PBRS).
Salleh, who is also State Legislative Assembly Speaker, challenged the division to go all out and regain not only the parliamentary seat but also retain the two state seats Inanam and Karambunai where the opposition has made inroads.
However, Salleh also pulled no punches when he demanded his party’s Sepanggar division “do whatever it takes” to wrest Sepangar from the opposition.
Jumat responded in turn that his branch would work extra hard to ensure BN’s victory ‘if chosen to represent the coalition in the coming election’.
“We (Sepanggar Umno) must prove that we can do it or Umno will never get anymore opportunity to contest in this parliamentary constituency,” he added.
All eyes on Sepanggar
Current MP Eric Enchin Majimbun won the seat in the 2004 and 2008 elections, on a BN ticket.
In 2004 he polled 16,226 votes against 5,098 votes garnered by PKR’s Saidatul Badru Mohd Said, who is Salleh’s sister.
In the 12th general election, Mojimbun retained the seat for BN polling 16,884 votes.
PKR’s Yembun Abdullah received 5,423 votes while DAP’s Ewon Edward Muji managed 3,709 votes. The BN lost hold of the constituency when SAPP pulled out of BN on Sept 17, 2008.
Jumat harbours ambitions of being nominated as Umno’s candidate and members of his division have been lobbying for their chief to be the man to take on the opposition.
Upko supreme council member Albert Bingkasan is also said to be among those in contention for the BN seat while William Mojimbun will be the choice for PBS.
Both have voiced their support for Jumat should Umno be selected to contest the seat.
Meanwhile, SAPP has still not decided who will be defending Sepanggar in the coming election. The Sabah-based opposition party may field a new candidate in the constituency.
Majimbun, a deputy president in SAPP told FMT that the party would be fielding candidates in Sepanggar as well as Inanam and Karambunai. He is likely to contest in Inanam.
By contesting in Inanam where he is also popular, the elder sibling will avert a likely `family fight’ should BN decide to field his younger brother as the candidate.
‘Formidable task ahead’
The older Majimbun will be up against incumbent Inanam assemblyman Johnny Goh Chin Lok of PBS.
Should Majimbun be picked by his party to defend his MP seat, his task will not be as easy as before though there has been a gradual trend statewide away from Umno and the BN.
Jumat himself has admitted that he has a formidable task ahead of him convincing voters to switch their allegiance.
“When I go round the constituency, the people tell me that the MP is a nice person and always smiles,” he said.
Umno and SAPP will not be the only parties contesting in Sepanggar and the two state seats.
Jeffrey Kitingan’s State Reform Party (Star) and Pakatan Rakyat may also field their respective candidates.
The constituency which falls within Kota Kinabalu city limits, has a multi-racial population.
Inanam on the other hand is predominantly populated by Kadazandusuns while Karambunai is a Muslim-Bumiputera constituency. There are about 3,000 postal voters at the Sepanggar naval base.