Salleh Said Keruak needs to win big in Usukan if he is to have any chances of taking over the chief minister's post from Musa Aman.
KOTA BELUD: Former Sabah chief minister Salleh Said Keruak, who is attempting to retake the Usukan state seat, once held by him and before that by his late father, is finding the terrain a bit tougher this time.
The overwhelmingly Bajau constituency within the Kota Belud parliamentary seat is said to be suddenly tilting to PKR’s young candidate Mustafa Sakmad.
The young engineer is said to be well-liked by both the old and younger generation in the constituency. His rating is said to be still soaring and it has worried Umno, with voters heading to the polls this Sunday.
Salleh’s ratings, on the other hand, has been slowing but could go up again as Barisan Nasional has always had a bagful of tricks to lure voters back to its corner, which is something that it never had to do in this constituency in the past.
The third contender for the seat, Bakhrudin Ismail, the son of former Kadamaian assemblyman (then known as Sorob and later Kebayau), Ismail Gimbad, is said to be trailing well behind the duo.
Salleh, the Sabah Umno deputy chief, is however confident that he will win handsomely in Usukan.
“BN will sweep the seats in Kota Belud,” he has been quoted as saying on the campaign trail.
Many of the voters in Usukan, though, still have fond memories of their last assemblyman, Japlin Akim, who many said had done more in a short time though he was only an assistant minister.
Salleh, on the other hand, they claimed, had been a chief minister as well as state minister and in various other roles for a long time but fell short of achievements compared to Japlin.
Votes for PKR’s Mustafa seem to be coming in as both protest votes from Japlin’s supporters as well as those who had earlier decided to join the drive for change in the country.
Unseen before, the Bajaus are opening opposition “markas” (operation centres) everywhere in Usukan, forcing Salleh and his well-oiled teams to work extra hours and use more resources.
Despite his outward show of confidence, the possible chief minister-in-waiting is said to be worried about the growing prospects of a surprise result in Usukan.
Rumours that Salleh has “endorsed” Independent Lamsil Hamidsor who was ejected from Umno for standing against Abdul Rahman Dahlan for the parliamentary seat, has also not helped Salleh’s team.
Salleh has dismissed the rumours as a ploy by the opposition to connect him to certain scheming within Umno.
Looking for a slim win
Another factor is the speculations going around that Salleh is quietly supporting another relative, Munirah Majilis, of PKR for the parliamentary seat.
According to independent observers, Munirah is currently leading in a five-cornered tussle for the MP seat, with Abdul Rahman trailing closely in second place.
The others in the fray besides Abdul Rahman and Lamsil are Jalumin Bayogoh of STAR and another Independent, Kanul Gindol.
Such speculations, observers said, had dented Salleh’s image and the enigmatic ways of positioning his relatives in local politics to cement the family’s influence in the district.
“What we are interested in are development, employment and security for our people. We can only have them if we do away with cronyism and nepotism,” said an educated elderly local leader in Usukan.
But seasoned politicians like Salleh are rooted in the old ways of manoeuvring for power and that is what is happening in Usukan. Umno and BN are seeking to stamp their authority over the people while the people seek more air to breathe without being subjected to a feudalistic politics.
In the last 2008 general election, BN’s Japlin won Usukan with a thumping majority of 4,023, getting 7,964 votes against his sole opponent then, Mohd Shukor Abdul Mumin of PKR, who garnered 3,941 votes.
Right now, Salleh will be satisfied with a win even if it is by a slim majority.
A small smaller margin of victory could, however, damage his chances of taking over the chief minister’s post from Musa Aman.