KOTA KINABALU: Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) president Joseph Pairin Kitingan may have signalled his readiness to retire, even declaring there is only a 1% chance of him defending his Keningau federal seat and Tambunan state seat in the 14th general election (GE14).
However, with nomination day set on April 28, even those who wish to see the 77-year-old veteran politician take a deserved rest are now resigned to the fact that he may be obliged to make yet another U-turn.
Just two months ago, Pairin’s younger brother Jeffrey Kitingan, president of the opposition Parti Solidariti Tanahairku (STAR), was confident the long-serving Tambunan assemblyman would finally step down and let others take over the reins this time.
“Tambunan is synonymous with Pairin but I was told and even advised to come to Tambunan (to stand there) this time around.
“That is why I have focused STAR’s election machinery on taking over the seat as well as Keningau.
“Even if Pairin decides to stand again in Tambunan, and that means I will face him there, so be it,” he said.
According to STAR Youth chief Terence Sinti, the party has done extensive research on Tambunan’s past election results and found that Pairin, one of the most charismatic politicians in Sabah’s post-Malaysia history, is still well supported by the older generation.
However, the younger generation are overwhelmingly leaning towards the opposition, he added.
“It is undeniable that Tambunan voters are different from those in other constituencies. Their attachment to Pairin is so strong that they see Pairin as Tambunan and Tambunan as Pairin,” said Sinti.
Younger voters, he said, know how to evaluate their candidates and one only has to look at the last two election results to realise that Pairin’s majority in the Tambunan seat has dropped significantly.
In the 2008 election, the Kadazandusun Murut Huguan Siou, or “Paramount Leader”, romped home with 65% of the votes cast.
But in 2013, he only obtained 5,586 votes to defeat his nearest challenger from Star, Nestor Joannes, who garnered 3,507 votes.
Pairin’s votes accounted for only 48.8% of the total ballots cast in the five-cornered contest.
Sinti said STAR has worked hard to ensure Tambunan voters will now choose Jeffrey to carry on Pairin’s legacy and allow their beloved leader to really retire.
“Of course, if Pairin loses the seat, everybody would understand that it is the end of an era. But would Tambunan people reject the Huguan Siou? That is anybody’s guess.
“But it is a necessary sacrifice and if anybody can do this, I think it will be the Tambunan voters,” he said.
Pairin’s other relatives in politics
Other than Jeffrey, Pairin may also face another relative from Parti Warisan Sabah — Justin Alip, who is the former Tambunan PBS information chief.
Alip, who is Pairin’s brother-in-law, quit PBS last year and Warisan members believe Alip would probably stand against Pairin in Tambunan or Keningau.
Another lesser-known Kitingan, Crispin, also joined Warisan in July last year and has been paraded by Warisan president Shafie Apdal at many of his rallies.
“Crispin and I are close. He always comes to my house in Bingkor and we see each other frequently.
“But I don’t want to say bad things about my family,” said Jeffrey, smiling wryly when asked for his comment about his younger brother, Crispin.
While Jeffrey is mum on why Pairin would want to make a U-turn on his decision to retire from politics, rumours abound that Pairin was obliged to do so after being asked by Sabah BN chairman and Chief Minister Musa Aman and also national BN chairman and Prime Minister Najib Razak.
Already, some people in the PBS camp are starting a campaign to determine the people’s reception to Pairin’s candidacy.
The man who was supposed to take over from Pairin and defend the seat for BN, Daniel Kinsik, however refused to confirm or deny the rumours.
“If he wants to defend the seat, that is his call. He is the party president and it is his decision.
“Whether he wants to defend the Tambunan seat or Keningau seat or both, it’s up to him,” the PBS vice-president told FMT.
The problem would be public perception as Pairin had already announced his retirement, not once but three times. He even penned a heartfelt message to his anointed successor, PBS deputy president Maximus Ongkili, at last year’s PBS congress.
Any attempt to reverse that decision, said Kinsik, would certainly invite negative questions and pique the people’s curiosity on why Pairin was not honouring his word.
“As for me, despite being touted as the candidate, I stand firm with PBS. I am a party man and I respect the party’s decision,” he said.