Gabungan Bersatu Sabah: Final nail in the coffin for state Umno?

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KOTA KINABALU: Analysts here believe the creation of opposition bloc Gabungan Bersatu Sabah (GBS) may be the prelude to the eventual end of Umno in the state.

Political scientist Rahezzal Shah Abd Karim of Sabah UiTM acknowledged that Umno had managed to hold on to a number of seats in the state despite the recent general election results showing that more people favoured local-based political parties.

Rahezzal Shah Abd Karim.

“But the overall assessment seems to indicate that transforming Sabah Umno’s image to that of a local-based party would put Umno in a better position in the next election.

“I think Sabah Umno leaders know they need to rethink and reorganise their methods in order to remain relevant. They need to represent themselves as a Sabahan party, and one way is by being part of the new pact.

“There is also a possibility that this is one of the steps for Sabah Umno to be disbanded, paving the way for a new political party,” Rahezzal told FMT.

He added that realistically, opposition parties in Sabah had to form a pact in order to be a credible opposition.

“It would make them more organised in terms of how they’re going to raise issues or the policy matters of the current government. Working as a solid and unified opposition is more beneficial than working in a silo,” he said.

Parti Solidariti Tanah Airku (STAR) president Jeffrey Kitingan recently said the process to register GBS as an official opposition bloc in Sabah was in the final stages.

Sabah Umno chief Hajiji Md Noor said Umno was still part of Barisan Nasional (BN) at the national level but that BN was no longer a recognised pact in the state.

Besides Umno and STAR, PBS and other independent elected reps are also members of the GBS.

Kitingan had also claimed that local parties such as the Sabah Progressive Party and Parti Pembangunan Rakyat Sabah, both affiliated to Gabungan Sabah, were expected to join GBS.

Tony Paridi Bagang.

Tony Paridi Bagang, a policy studies lecturer, said GBS might be the target of criticism with Umno included in the set-up.

“Hence, for the time being, GBS needs to get ready to counter negative perceptions from people who dislike Umno and convince them that GBS is not BN’s shadow but a new local pact that is good for Sabahans.

“If Umno is no longer accepted in Sabah, then to dissolve Sabah Umno might be the last option so that it can create a reason to form a new local-based party.

“This at least will allow the people to observe and to be convinced that GBS will offer something new,” he said, adding that change was something many people wanted to see.

However, Bagang said while local-based politics was important to Sabah, federal-state relations must be maintained as well.

“GBS should not disengage completely from federal or national politics as it does influence and affect the state and local politics.

“Most importantly, GBS must be able to function as a strong, solid and constructive opposition in the state to ensure a check and balance of the present government,” he said.

Universiti Malaysia Sarawak deputy dean Arnold Puyok, on the other hand, said it would be pointless for Umno to disband in Sabah if the same people took their seats in the new bloc.

Arnold Puyok.

“Even if Sabah Umno dissolves, if the same players remain nothing will change. The old leaders can remain but they will need to introduce new people who are willing to change their approach.

“The perception of Sabah Umno generally is that it is a party dominated by warlords, a party that lacks progressive ideas (and) still resorts to the old style of politics,” he said.

He added that the introduction of new leaders could play a big role in rejuvenating Umno, particularly in Sabah.

Puyok said this approach would determine whether Umno could remain relevant in the changing political environment in both Sabah and Malaysia as a whole.