If Pairin gives up public service, the Kadazandusuns could pick someone with a family connection to take over.
PENAMPANG: There’s a certain nervousness in the Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) ranks in the run-up to next week’s three-day party congress. It could well be the final one for its founder, Joseph Pairin Kitingan, at least as president.
With others in the party hierarchy expected to either shore up their positions or jockey for them, the congress is also expected to be closely monitored by many in the state hoping for a hint of what course the party will take.
Drafts of Pairin’s policy speech are being vetted by the top leadership, said sources who revealed that it focuses on pressing issues facing Sabah, such as the illegal immigrants, preparations for the general election and eventual change of leadership.
But Pairin, now 72, could still deviate from the text and shock members and supporters of the party, Umno’s staunchest ally in the Sabah Barisan Nasional coalition government.
While few outside PBS have commented on the Nov 20-22 congress yet, many within the party are expecting a bit of drama.
They remember the theatrics at the Umno general assembly several years ago when Dr Mahathir Mohamad caused a sensation by announcing he was stepping down as party president, causing many to break down in tears and beg him to withdraw his resignation. As it turned out, he relented after shedding a few tears himself.
A similar outbreak of emotion could happen at the iconic Hongkod Koisaan hall next week if Pairin does something similar.
Pairin founded PBS in 1985. After helming the state government for nine years, he was deposed from his post as chief minister in 1994 by the current government and was state opposition leader for several years until the party was re-admitted into the BN in 2002.
He is now one of Chief Minister Musa Aman’s deputies and has been the MP for Keningau and state representative for Tambunan uninterruptedly since 1976. He is also Huguan Siou or paramount chief of the Kadazandusun people, taking over the honorific position from former chief minister Fuad Stephens who was killed in an air crash in 1976.
Pairin is also president of the Kadazandusun Cultural Association (KDCA), a position that gives him absolute control of community affairs.
Several months ago, however, he set in motion plans to retire from politics by announcing that this coming 13th general election would be the last he would contest.
Some say the decision was prompted by the gradual loss of support for the party by his own people and was his way of delaying a revolt against him. Others say his family circle has been pressuring him to retreat from active politics after this congress.
Pairin could take a middle path by relinquishing the parliamentary seat of Keningau and only contesting the Tambunan state seat. That would be welcome news for his younger brother Jeffrey, who is in the opposition and is eager to stand in Keningau and possibly the Bingkor state seat.
Sources say that Pairin has opted to officiate at the party’s youth and women’s wing meetings tomorrow (Nov 20), something that is a bit unusual. His deputy was usually tasked with these duties in the past in keeping with the protocol of other political parties.
It could yet be his way to gauge the party’s maturity at all levels.
PBS information chief, Johnny Mositun, said the youth and women’s wing meetings will be held on the first day of the congress, while the official opening of the congress will be held the following day in the afternoon followed by the party’s traditional Unity Night or “Malam Bersatu”.
The congress proper only takes place on the final day on Nov 22 with the focus being on Pairin’s two speeches – his policy speech in the morning and a closing speech in the evening.
According to party insiders, Pairin was asked to stay and contest in the coming general election by all members of his supreme council including his top four potential heirs – deputy presidents, Maximus Ongkili, Dr Yee Moh Chai, Almudin Kaida and secretary-general Henrynus Amin.
But not all are worried about the prospect of losing Pairin. At least one of the senior leaders was not very “enthusiastic”, as one source put it, to join the chorus of people urging their president to stay.
Declining to reveal who the person was, the source said that he could be manoeuvring for the post- Musa-Pairin period and appears to be in Shafie Apdal’s camp.
PBS members are also wary of the potent threat to PBS seats in the coming election from Jeffrey who was also a founder of PBS in 1985.
Jeffrey to benefit
If Pairin retreats from public service, the Kadazandusuns could well favour someone with a family connection to take over. Jeffrey’s State Reform Party or STAR has reportedly already drawn away support from PBS in many constituencies.
While PBS leaders will not admit it, there are claims that some party branches and divisions are suddenly having a problem attracting the minimum number of members to hold their meetings including annual general meetings.
Some say that in many of the party’s divisional AGMs this year, fewer than 200 people turned up unlike before PBS rejoined the BN when the turnout would number well over 500.
Many disaffected former supporters and members have reportedly quietly joined STAR which claims a membership of over 170,000 in a mere 10 months of its existence in the state.
The disenfranchised natives empathise with Jeffrey who they view as having borne the humiliation and hardship of imprisonment for almost three years under the now repealed Internal Security Act while Pairin and PBS reaped the benefits.
Party supporters have not discounted the possibility of Pairin being humiliated in the coming election even if he wins as it could be by a diminishing majority.
A local political pundit who requested anonymity said: “There is nothing more that Pairin can do now than he could not have done in his peak year. PBS should see itself post-Pairin era, but it just cannot shake away its mentality that PBS is Pairin and Pairin is PBS.”