Latest developments in Sabah's political scene are an indication of the failure by PKR's top leaders to unite the people in support of a cohesive Pakatan Rakyat coalition.
The switch by former Barisan Nasional loyalists to the opposition is threatening to upset the delicate balance between the newcomers and the old hands, with both claiming they are the legitimate first-choice contenders for any seat.
Until a few weeks ago, PKR was the main opposition party that was seen as being able to topple BN’s Maximus Ongkili from his parliamentary seat in Kota Marudu where he is considered an interloper as his family is from Tambunan.
Support for popular local-born Anthony Mandiau, a PKR candidate in the 12th general election, was rising even though he was defeated by Ongkili. The writing was on the wall when he polled a creditable 7,830 votes against the winner’s 12,028.
Mandiau did the same in 2004 as an independent candidate polling 7,268 votes against Ongkili’s 10,457.
However, with the entry of former United Pasokmomogun Kadazandusun Murut Organisation (Upko) veteran leaders Wilfred Bumburing and Senator Maijol Mahap who quit their party and the ruling coalition to enter the fray, Mandiau may not get the chance to test the third-time-lucky game plan.
Things were looking up for him when Mahap, the former Upko vice-president, quit BN to throw his support for Pakatan Rakyat.
“The number of PKR supporters has increased close to 10,000 now compared to just 13 members when I joined the party in 2007,” Mandiau told delegates of the divisional party’s congress in Kota Marudu last week.
However, the jump in the number of overt supporters is making him sweat rather than smile.
“It now seems that my friend [Mahap] has his own plans. He quit BN so that he can contest in the coming election on a Pakatan ticket.
“When I joined PKR in 2007, Upko leaders including Mahap laughed at me… they were telling the people of Kota Marudu that my move was wrong as I was joining a political party that had no following. Now they want to join us,” he told the congress.
‘Newcomers’ stoking anger
Mandiau, a two-time opposition candidate, views (Mahap’s) move as unprincipled in the light of the newcomers’ attempts to commandeer the process of nominating opposition candidates for various seats in the state.
Mahap has joined Angkatan Perubahan Sabah (APS) headed by Bumburing, who is Tuaran MP.
Bumburing has declared support for Pakatan and seems intent on stamping his mark on the question of candidacy.
Mandiau disclosed that Bumburing was accompanied by Mahap and former senator Kalakau Untol last week to a gathering of PKR supporters in Kampung Marak Parak, a remote village in the Kota Marudu district.
“It was during this gathering that the APS leader announced that Mahap will be the Pakatan candidate for the Kota Marudu parliamentary seat, contesting on a PKR ticket.
“What is this? This is clear that Mahap resigned from Upko so that he can contest, which he would not have been able to do if he is still in BN,” Mandiau said.
He said he was only informed by Mahap about the function three hours before it began at 2pm and he was unable to attend.
But said that he was with the senator the day before and there was no mention about the next day’s gathering.
“I am the Kota Marudu PKR head but was sidelined. This should not have happened,” he said, adding that PKR leaders in the division are not happy about the new developments following APS’ entry into the district.
He also told the congress that due to APU’s move and activities in promoting Mahap as the candidate, former MP George Sangkin and about 1,000 supporters had left PKR.
But Sangkin had promised support if he (Mandiau) is the candidate.
PKR leaders must listen to people
Mandiau believes the same battle for seats is happening in other constituencies where those who left BN to join APS and Pakatan Perubahan Sabah (PPS) headed by Beaufort MP Lajim Ukin are expecting to be rewarded for the switch in allegiance.
There is a tacit understanding that APS would help Pakatan in non-Muslim Bumiputera areas while Muslim constituencies would be looked after by PPS.
The understanding also includes a carte blanche to the leaders of the two organisations to contest where they please using any of the opposition’s component parties – PKR, PAS, DAP – as their platform.
However, this has not gone down well with many opposition supporters.
Mandiau pointed out for the opposition to win, party leaders must listen to the voice of the majority and “not just a handful who have just jumped ship into the Pakatan stable”.
He said a disunited opposition would be to the advantage of the BN.
Mahap contested for BN against PBS-opposition Ongkili in the 1999 general election but lost, obtaining 6,781 votes against Ongkili’s 8,465.
The coming election will potentially also see opposition candidates fielded by the Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) and State Reform Party (STAR), further splintering the vote.
Tandak SAPP vice-chairman John Mitah Mikat said the latest developments are an indication of the failure by PKR to unite the people of Sabah in support of the opposition coalition in facing the 13th general election.
Ongkili himself does not look like a man under pressure. He has been boasting that his Kota Marudu parliamentary seat and its two state seats of Matunggong and Tandek are safe seats for BN.
The three seats have always been PBS strongholds since 1985 and the party’s candidates have always won the seats even when it was in the opposition. Before being elected as an MP, Ongkili had also served as Tandek assemblyman.
Ongkili, the PBS deputy president, won the seat in 1995 and 1999 elections when the party headed by his uncle Joseph Pairin Kitingan, the current Sabah BN deputy chief minister, was still in the opposition.
The federal Science, Technology and Innovation Minister went on to win the seats again in 2004 and 2008 general elections on a BN ticket. PBS pulled out from BN in 1990 and rejoined in 2002.