The mainly Muslim Bisaya community looks to be next on the chopping block due to the tussles in Umno.
After various manoeuvring over the years saw the mainly Christian Kadazandusun and Murut indigenous community splintering into several political parties and factions, the mainly Muslim Bisaya community looks to be next on the chopping block.
The exit of Lajim Ukin, the chieftain of the Bisaya community in Sabah, from Umno last year after a long quarrel with Chief Minister Musa Aman broke into the open, had set the stage to erase whatever influence the powerful Beaufort MP has in his community.
A new man – Isnin Aliasnih – Lajim’s former No 2 is being groomed to take his place and possibly face-off with him for the Beaufort parliamentary constituency in the 13th general election that is around the corner.
Incumbent MP Lajim would be contesting under the PKR banner while Isnin, who took over as Beaufort Umno divisional head after the former’s resignation from the government last year, is expected to be Umno’s candidate.
It would be the second clash between the two after Isnin challenged Lajim for the post of Janang Gayuh (Paramount Leader) of the Bisaya community.
The Bisaya are an indigenous people from the north-west and coastline of Borneo. They are mostly concentrated near the Beaufort district, the river Padas in Sabah and along the Limbang River in Sarawak. The Bisaya living in Sabah are mostly Muslims and those in Sarawak are mainly Christians.
Lajim, the former federal deputy minister of housing and local government, retained his chieftainship which is on par with the Huguan Siou title held by Kadazan Dusun Cultural Association president Joseph Pairin Kitingan.
Isnin has already announced that he is prepared to face Lajim as he now also holds the influential post of Beaufort division Barisan Nasional leader which was previously held by the incumbent MP.
Since exiting from the ruling coalition in July last year, Lajim formed his own Sabah Reform Alliance, a pro-opposition body he put together to take on the Umno-led BN.
In the 2008 general election Lajim won the seat for BN polling 14,780 votes against PKR’s Lajim Md Yusof who garnered 3,866 votes. The seat was won unopposed by BN’s Azizah Mohd Dun in the 2004 election who is also a potential candidate for Umno in the constituency.
A hot seat
Beaufort has been considered a hot seat ever since Lajim, a popular figure in the district since his days in the Parti Bersatu Sabah government, resigned from Umno where he was a supreme council member, Beaufort Umno division head and by virtue the chairman of BN. He is considered a formidable opponent by other Umno leaders.
An indication of Lajim’s popularity was when he was challenged by Isnin for the Janang Gayuh position in the community in the 1990s when Lajim was still in PBS, which was then in the opposition at federal level. Despite Umno’s support, Isnin failed to unseat him as president of the Sabah United Bisaya Association.
Lajim claims that he “made” Isnin who he is now in Umno while his former second-in-command has countered by telling his supporters that Lajim had to rely on him when he was in the BN to win the election and get a high position in the government.
Isnin also claims that he gave way to Lajim to contest in the 2004 general election in the Klias constituency and it was he who was the BN candidate.
Hints of how crucial the seat is viewed by Umno came when earlier this month, Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak made it a point to visit the district to drum up support for his ruling coalition.
The prime minister even indirectly mocked the Bisaya leader saying that the opposition was “daydreaming” if they thought they could win Beaufort in the coming election.
Analysts however point out that Sabah Umno shot itself in the foot when its chairman, Musa, manoeuvred to sideline the independent-minded Lajim and place someone more to his liking in the district that his family hails from.
Isnin, a senior officer in the Infrastructure Development Ministry, was swiftly appointed by the Umno supreme council as acting chief of the Umno Beaufort division after Lajim quit the division along with 33 other division members.
Lajim himself has been criticised for helping in the fall of the elected PBS government in 1994 when he defected from the party after it won the state election by a razor-thin two-seat margin. His action opened a floodgate of defections from PBS to BN which led to the collapse of the Pairin-led PBS state government.