The entry of Lajim Ukin and Wilfred Bumburing into Pakatan Rakyat is stirring the hornet in Sabah.
KOTA KINABALU: The opposition in Sabah is gaining confidence and feels that the game is up for Barisan Nasional (BN) politicians in the coming 13th general election, but its would-be candidates are getting edgy.
The entry of recently-defected senior Barisan Nasional leaders, Lajim Ukin and Wilfred Bumburing, to the opposition camp has thrown up a lot of dust in the Pakatan Rakyat camp.
In the poverty-stricken rural district of Kota Marudu north of here, friction between the old and the new opposition supporters is being felt.
Federal Minister Maximus Ongkili, the Kota Marudu MP, is among those on shaky ground for sure if he stands for re-election in the same constituency, according to Pakatan.
Pakatan has been working hard since its unexpected showing in Peninsular Malaysia in the last general election. It believes its candidates in Sabah will be capable of wresting several BN-held constituencies due to the failures by the Umno-led government to live up to its promises.
Among the front-running candidates for the Kota Marudu seat is PKR old hand Anthony Mandiau, the party’s division head there. Also in the list of potential candidates for the state seats of Matunggong and Tandek are local leaders.
Mandiau himself is optimistic that he will be able to unseat Ongkili, the Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) deputy president. It will be the third time the two will face off if Ongkili defends the seat again, with Mandiau losing in the 2004 and 2008 elections.
Former United Pasok Momogun Kadazandusun Murut Organisation (Upko) vice-president Senator Maijol Mahap’s defection from the ruling coalition to support Pakatan has added a new dimension to the contest.
All’s not well with BN
While there was a big crowd at Maijol’s house when he made the announcement of his support for the opposition in the presence of Pakatan leader Anwar Ibrahim, Mandiau, who was also present, played down its significance.
He claimed he was responsible for getting PKR supporters to the function which they would have otherwise ignored.
“I did this out of respect for Anwar… I had to organise a big crowd to come. The response from the people would had been less if it was the senator who invited the rakyat to come. In fact, there was also a big crowd from outside Kota Marudu,” Mandiau said.
Although Maijol resigned from BN to support Pakatan, he has not applied to officially join any of the Pakatan parties nor has he indicated he will do so any time soon.
He has stated that should he contest, he will choose one of the Pakatan parties (PAS, DAP or PKR).
There have been indications that all is not well for the BN in Kota Marudu for some time now. In fact, after Maijol’s resignation from the BN, local leaders aligned to him have started a campaign to get him on the list of Pakatan candidates for the coming election.
The campaign by his supporters is understood to be continuing despite Mandiau announcing that he had had “discussions” with Maijol on the issue of candidacy for the Kota Marudu seat.
Mandiau and other local PKR leaders have insisted that the opposition candidate is not an independent.
“We will make sure that candidates for the parliamentary and state seats will be from PKR,” Mandiau said. The party fielded candidates for the state seats of Matunggong and Tandek in 2008 but lost to BN.
Ongkili, who is Federal Science, Technology and Innovation Minister, has been MP since he won the seat for PBS, then the opposition in 1995. He defeated his uncle, Jeffery Kitingan, who was the BN candidate. Ongkili polled 10,716 while Jeffrey got 5,851 votes.
Ongkili, a former assemblyman for Langkon (1994-2008), retained the seat as an opposition PBS candidate in 1999 when he obtained 8,465 votes against 6,781 votes polled by BN’s Maijol.
He went on to retain the seat in the 2004 election with 10,457 to 7,268 votes managed by independent Mandiau. They contested against each other again in 2008 when Mandiau garnered 7,890 to Ongkili’s 10,457 votes.
Mandiau said since the last election he had gone into full-time politics and PKR has been working hard to be with the constituents.
He said support has been strong and he believes the opposition can finally topple the BN candidate this time round.
He is, however, cautious about the latest developments which have thrown Maijol and his supporters into the district’s political mix.
“My [PKR] supporters are confused. They think I am the PKR candidate for the parliamentary seat but word is now going around that there are others who may stand for PKR,” he said.
He hopes Pakatan’s top leadership will listen to the constituents themselves when they make their choice.
It is widely acknowledged that any quarrel within the opposition camp over the choice of candidate will play into BN’s hands as Pakatan will not be the only party fielding a candidate in the constituency.
Jeffrey’s State Reform Party (STAR) as well as the Sabah Progressive Party are also expected to make a bid for the seat.