Major exodus cripples Sabah Umno

Sabah Umno chief Hajiji Md Noor (centre) speaking to the media while flanked by Karanaan assemblyman Masidi Manjun (left) and Beluran MP Ronald Kiandee (right)

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah Umno chief Hajiji Mohd Noor today joined other elected representatives, senators and senior division leaders exiting the party and becoming independents, effectively crippling the party’s chapter in the state.

Hajiji said the decision was unanimous, saying it was taken because “Umno is not what it used to be”.

“The current leadership lacks clear political direction,” he told a packed press conference here today.

Those leaving comprised four MPs, nine assemblymen, two senators and 21 division heads.

“We are not sure where Umno is heading to. There are conflicting accounts of the ‘way forward’ depending on who you talk to at the top leadership,” he said.

Outgoing Sabah Umno senior leaders show solidarity after the media conference.

Apart from Hajiji, the other Umno assemblymen are Musbah Jamli (Tempasuk), Japlin Akin (Usukan), Ghulam Haidar Khan Bahada (Kawang), Mohd Arifin Mohd Arif (Membakut), Isnin Aliasnih (Klias), Matbali Musbah (Lumadan), Masidi Manjun (Karanaan), Nizam Abu Bakar Titingan (Apas).

The MPs meanwhile are Abdul Rahim Bakri (Kudat), Azizah Mohd Dun (Beaufort), Ronald Kiandee (Beluran) and Zakaria Mohd Edris (Libaran).

They are also joined by two senators, Penampang Umno chief John Ambrose and Pensiangan Umno chief Ghani Yassin.

Two senior leaders who are not among them are former chief minister Musa Aman and Kinabatangan MP Bung Moktar.

Hajiji said the group would be joined by Musa’s son, Sipitang MP Hafez Yamani Musa. Hafez has yet to be sworn in as MP in the Dewan Rakyat.

Senior state party leaders including Sabah Umno information chief Pandikar Amin and Supreme Council member Salleh Said Keruak, who were present at today’s press conference, had also quit the party.

Hajiji said although the group was party-less for now, it pledged full support for the Pakatan Harapan government led by Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

“Consistent with the above, we would like to also register our pledge to support (Chief Minister) Shafie Apdal and the Sabah government,” he added.

Also at the press conference were were PPBM Supreme Council members Rais Hussin and Rafiq Naizamohideen, as well as Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah deputy president Arthur Kurup.

When asked if the group would be joining PPBM or Warisan, Masidi said they were considering all their options.

He said those who had left would regroup and chart a new course, adding that a decision would likely be announced in a month’s time.

On whether PPBM was planning to enter Sabah, Masidi, the outgoing Sabah Umno secretary, said it was up to the party if it wished to do so.

“That is only speculation for now,” he said. “But we will speak our mind. It doesn’t mean that if we are friendly (to the government), we have to accept everything.”

He added that there was no need to refer to Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi over today’s decision, which had been unanimous.

Kiandee meanwhile said he had met Zahid last Monday and unofficially told the latter of the group’s move.

When asked if the decision had the blessings of Musa and whether he too would be part of the group, Hajiji said he had informed the former Sabah Umno chief of the matter but could not say more than that.

“I can’t speak for him. You have to ask him.”

Hajiji said he believed more than half of Sabah Umno’s 500,000 members would be joining the group.

He said members from the state’s women, Puteri and Youth wings would also leave.

In his opening statement earlier, he said the group believed Umno’s relevance in Sabah had become politically untenable.

“Sabah Umno leaders and members need to move on and chart a new political direction. It will take a lot of courage and hard work to build a new political movement and entity. But together, we can do it.

“We have no bitterness against Umno, only some disappointments. I, with many of my colleagues, have benefited from our association with Umno,” he said, adding that it was through the party that they were appointed as ministers and to other important posts.

He said the group’s decision also took into account the fact that Sabah Umno had over 100,000 non-Muslims, and that any shift in the party’s political direction would jeopardise their support for Umno.

On their association with opposition bloc Gabungan Bersatu Sabah, Hajiji said they would maintain the relationship.

“Whatever it is, we can still have coffee together… that’s the beauty of Sabah,” he said.

On whether Kimanis MP Anifah Aman would join the group, he said he had not met the latter.