Post-GE14, Sabah KDM still searching for unity

Then PBS deputy president Maximus Ongkili with leaders from PBS, Upko and PBRS after a meeting in April last year. (Bernama pic)

KOTA KINABALU: There was once hope that the presidential council of Upko, PBS and PBRS under Barisan Nasional (BN) would pave the way to unite the three main Kadazandusun Murut (KDM)-majority parties in Sabah.

While mainly formed to strategise a big win for the former ruling coalition in the May 9 general election last year, the council was also seen as a platform to eventually bring together the politically fractious KDM community.

Even PBS president Maximus Ongkili, who was deputy president at the time, believed that the council could one day unite the KDM parties under a single symbol.

“That was before it was betrayed by one of its members, moments after GE14,” political analyst Lee Kuok Tiung said.

Lee Kuok Tiung.

Lee was referring to Upko, which switched allegiance to the Warisan-Pakatan Harapan pact a day after the election.

Lee told FMT that the council represented the best opportunity for any collaboration among the KDM parties. But post-election events had put paid to any such hope, at least for the foreseeable future, he said.

“The KDMs have been split into different groups and ideologies for some time now.

“For now, it’s hard to see it (unity) happening. It’s like wishing for something impossible,” the Universiti Malaysia Sabah senior lecturer added.

Upko and PBRS were formed as splinters of PBS after the 1994 state election which saw PBS fail in its bid to form the state government despite narrowly winning at the polls.

This was due to a series of defections from PBS to BN. Some of the leaders included Joseph Kurup, who formed PBRS, and Bernard Dompok who founded Upko’s precursor, Parti Demokratik Sabah.

Support among the KDM community has been largely split between the three parties, although political observers believe they could form a powerful bloc if united under a single banner.

Although PBS and Upko are multiracial parties, they are seen as KDM outfits due to the KDM origins of the majority of their members.

Other KDM-majority parties include Parti Solidariti Tanah Airku, Parti Cinta Sabah and Parti Kerjasama Anak Negeri.

Tony Paridi Bagang.

UiTM Sabah’s Tony Paridi Bagang agreed that it could be some time before talk of unity among the dominant KDM parties starts up again.

He added that people were now beginning to talk of politics beyond race or ethnicity.

In the absence of any unifying party for the KDM community, however, both Lee and Bagang said Warisan had a slight advantage by virtue of being the dominant party in Sabah.

“Warisan claims to be a multiracial party, so there is always a chance that it could reunite the KDM people. It all depends on the leadership, current political setting and sentiments of the KDM,” Bagang said.

Even if Warisan takes on the role, he added, it would be a big challenge as other KDM parties also held sway over the community’s sentiments.

Lee meanwhile said Upko might have trouble leading the charge due to the trust issues which arose following its defection after May 9.

“Currently, the two most prominent KDM leaders in Warisan are deputy president Darell Leiking and vice-president Peter Anthony.

“Leiking has been known as a giant slayer after beating former Upko president Bernard Dompok in GE13, while Anthony is impressive for many reasons, one of them being his position as the Malaysia Kadazan Dusun Murut Organisation president.

“But they must face competition from their allies such as Upko, PKR and DAP before even looking at their opponents outside the current ruling coalition. It’s not easy,” he added.

Lee said KDM-majority parties also appeared to have a foothold in issues affecting the KDM community.

“Among the sentiments are to protect their indigenous peoples’ identity and their motherland. Illegal immigrants and native customary rights are also political hot potato issues for the KDMs,” he said.

He advised party leaders to abandon race-based politics and consider forging strategic alliances elsewhere to serve Sabah’s multi-ethnic society.

“I don’t see how we can discuss KDM politics as a standalone entity. The glaciers are melting due to the new Malaysian politics. When we talk about KDM politics, we must also look at who their partners are.

“Existing KDM-majority parties are seen as equally strong now. Who their allies are will make the difference. Who’s seen as the genuine fighters will have a place in the people’s hearts.”