KOTA KINABALU: The GE14 contests in Keningau and Tambunan will be closely watched because the incumbent for both seats, deputy chief minister Joseph Pairin Kitingan, has seen support for him steadily declining over the years.
Pairin has been the Keningau MP since 1986 and the state assemblyman for Tambunan for 10 terms. Tambunan, which he first won in 1976, is one of the three state constituencies inside Keningau, the other two being Bingkor and Liawan. Pairin has yet to say whether he will contest in the coming general election.
Some pundits are saying that Pairin has overstayed his welcome in the area. They cite recent surveys showing that young voters are unhappy over his alleged failure to address problems such as traffic jams in the town centre, road damage caused by overloaded logging trucks, the inconsistency of water supply for domestic use as well as irrigation and the high crime rate that is blamed on foreign criminals.
Some have also accused him of doing little to help natives with citizenship problems and to prevent the closing of the Keningau Teachers’ Education Centre.
However, Keningau parliament liaison officer Augustine Nain told FMT the pundits were wrong to say that the former chief minister was losing his popularity.
“Pairin remains a hugely popular figure in Keningau and also in Tambunan,” he said. “Wherever he goes and whenever he attends functions, people flock to him because they identify him as their leader.”
Pairin is the official Huguan Siou (paramount leader) of the Kadazandusun community and the president of Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS).
Keningau has a population of about 200,000, but that figure includes immigrants, whose numbers are growing. There are only 48,060 registered voters. The majority of them – 72% – are non-Muslim Bumiputeras. Muslim Bumiputeras make up 18%. The remainder are Chinese.
Keningau is known for its agriculture, particularly paddy planting. Other crops introduced in recent years include oil palm.
Nain claimed that Pairin has been responsible for the rapid development of the area, noting that the government had completed several big projects such as the expansion of main roads and the opening of a new road connecting Kimanis and Keningau.
“Other than that, we now have the Keningau Handicraft Centre to help boost tourism and at the same time provide an avenue through which locals could market their products,” he said.
“Keningau also has a fully-equipped hospital. Patients no longer have to be sent all the way to Kota Kinabalu for treatment. There are also several new schools, including vocational and technical schools, and a UTC one-stop service centre building, which started operations in 2016.”
A PBS supporter in Keningau, Jinsi Kimlin, acknowledged that Pairin lacked support from youths. He accused them of failing to appreciate what he had done for the state over the years.
“He is the Huguan Siou, but young people don’t understand this concept. They don’t know the struggles he went through in the past and the meaning of those struggles.
“I still think Pairin will win, but it pains me when my own grandchildren speak ill of the man.”
One of the problems Pairin has to contend with is that youths are suspicious of Barisan Nasional, and many have accused him of turning his back on PBS’ original struggle of fighting for Sabah’s rights.
Nevertheless, the general view is that PBS will retain the Keningau and Tambunan seats. Some say BN could probably retake Bingkor, which is now held by Star, if the seat is contested by PBS and not Upko (United Pasok Momogun Kadazandusun Murut Organisation).
In Liawan, Sairin Karno of Umno could face tough opposition from Star as well as other local opposition parties, including Parti Warisan Sabah.