KOTA KINABALU: Umno acting president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi urged Sabah Umno members to remember their roots and the reason why Umno spread its wings to Sabah with the help of the now-defunct United Sabah National Organisation (Usno).
Speaking to about 1,000 Sabah Umno delegates here today, Zahid implied that Umno is a continuation of the people’s beloved Usno party and came into Sabah with the blessings of Usno founder, the late Datu Mustapha Datu Harun.
“Usno was not always the government. They were in the opposition before and then became the government before losing to become the opposition again.
“After merging with Umno, we fought together and eventually we became the government again.
“And now, we have lost the election but believe me, we will rise again. The point is, we must not think that because we have lost this election, we are dead and buried,” he said.
Zahid’s attempt to boost the spirits of the Sabah Umno members using their historical ties with Usno was a clear U-turn from previous statements by Umno leaders with regards to Usno.
Previously, several local Umno leaders were dismissive of Usno and its influence on the Muslim voters in the state. Some members viewed this as an affront to the memory of Mustapha, whom they regarded as the most important Muslim leader in Sabah.
On the other hand, Parti Warisan Sabah president Shafie Apdal took the opposite approach by successfully positioning himself as the heir of Mustapha, winning the hearts and minds of the Muslim voters in the state.
There were attempts by former Sabah Umno chief Musa Aman to try and emulate Shafie’s strategy but, at the time, the boat had already sailed and Shafie was by then seen as the “next Mustapha” by his supporters.
An Umno delegate from Sipitang, who preferred to remain anonymous, told FMT that many party supporters already sensed the winds of change blowing once Shafie was accepted as the “new Tun Mustapha”.
“We thought we could stem the tide by talking about what Umno has done for the people. But in the end, it is still the sentiment that wins the day,” he said.
Asked whether the attempt by Zahid — and Khairy Jamaluddin, who also talked about the importance of Usno during his visit to Sabah yesterday — to rebrand Sabah Umno as Usno of the old will succeed, he shook his head in disagreement.
“Maybe it will work to a point but eventually we need a leader who can rival Shafie. The ones we have now are either too weak, too green or not even a Bajau or Suluk,” he said.
Mustapha and former chief minister Harris Salleh were responsible for inviting Umno to Sabah in 1990, with Mustapha chosen as the first liaison chief.
However, by 1994, Mustapha’s relationship with then prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad had soured, leading to Mustapha’s decision to work together with then chief minister Joseph Pairin Kitingan in the state election that year.
Pairin’s Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) won the election by a simple majority but lost it following defections by its assemblymen to Barisan Nasional (BN).
Mustapha died in 1995 and Usno was eventually de-registered a year later with six of its legislators choosing to join Sabah Umno. The rest joined PBS.