With Anifah out, Kimanis gears up for new MP

The Kimanis offices of Warisan and Umno-Barisan Nasional at Kimanis Centro.

KIMANIS: Voters in Kimanis are adjusting to the idea of a new face as their MP, come the new year.

With former MP Anifah Aman’s decision not to re-contest the seat, the parliamentary constituency could be ripe for the picking by Sabah’s ruling party, Warisan.

However, an analyst places the party’s current chances at 50:50.

Anifah won the seat for a fourth term by a narrow margin in 2018 but lost it in a court decision last month, leading to a by-election on Jan 18.

However, victory for Warisan is not a foregone conclusion, as it faces the prospect of a challenge from two formidable opposition parties, Sabah Umno and Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS).

Umno-Barisan Nasional (BN) held Kimanis for 15 years under Anifah’s leadership, while PBS held the seat for one term, from 1990 to 1995.

Straight or multi-cornered fights?

Warisan’s chances of winning are 50:50, according to Universiti Malaysia Sabah political analyst Lee Kuok Tiung. “However, the situation would be favourable for Warisan if it is a multi-cornered fight,” he told FMT.

PBS leader Maximus Ongkili has said there are 6,000 to 8,000 fence sitters in Kimanis and that the party has over 5,000 active members in the constituency.

PBS left BN in the aftermath of the May 9, 2018 polls.

“We are now trying to assess voters’ sentiments and will likely decide whether to contest and name our candidate on nomination day (Jan 4),” he said.

Kimanis has 29,664 eligible voters, with over 16,000 voters in Bongawan and 13,000 in Membakut, the two state seats within the federal constituency.

Some 77% of the voters in Bongawan are Bumiputera, as are 80% in Membakut. This is seen as favourable to PBS.

But many Kimanis voters believe PBS will only split the votes in the by-election.

A colonial-era shophouse in old Kimanis town that has long been abandoned, leaving only a trader named Nurul who sells fish to those living near the area.

Sabah Umno leader Bung Moktar Radin wants PBS to stay out and allow Sabah Umno to recapture Kimanis.

The potential candidates are Kimanis Umno chief Mohd Alamin, UMS lecturer Saat Ag Damit, and former district officer Ahmad Gais. The list had also included Anifah and his sons Ahmad Firdaus and Ahmad Zachry, but they are believed to have pulled out of contention.

Anifah left Umno in December 2018 to become an independent MP but has openly declared support for BN in the by-election.

Businesswoman Nurul Afiqah told FMT she favoured Anifah to defend the seat, adding that Alamin and the rest are relatively unknown to Kimanis voters.

“People really don’t favour Alamin as he is not a Kimanis resident. He is from Papar. The other two newcomers, Saat Ag Damit and Ahmad Gais, are not too popular either,” she said.

The 40-year-old shop owner in the town of Bongawan said Alamin, who was a former rep, had never left any legacy, comparing him to Warisan’s Karim Bujang who built a commercial complex there while he was with Umno.

“So between Karim and Alamin, many will vote for Karim. He already has strong support in Membakut,” she said.

However, Nurul said Kimanis folks would not vote for the party, but for the candidate.

A Kimanis resident meanwhile said there had been rumours that Parti Solidariti Tanah Airku might sponsor an independent candidate to further split the votes in Kimanis.

A modern commercial centre in Bongawan, built next to colonial-era shophouses. Townsfolk credit Karim Bujang, a former Umno man now with Warisan, for the construction of the building.

Warisan’s PSS trouble

In 2018, Warisan’s candidate, Karim, lost to Anifah by only 156 votes.

But the narrow margin is no guarantee of smooth sailing for Warisan as it fends off attacks over the Temporary Sabah Pass (PSS).

PSS is a documentation card to replace the IMM13, Surat Burung-Burung and the census slip given to migrants by the previous governments.

The home ministry plans to issue 136,055 PSS to migrants on June 1 next year.

Around 600,000 cards could be distributed if the home ministry decides to include the descendants of the original holders.

The PSS must be renewed every three years at a fee of RM120. There is no limit to the number of renewals.

Many opposition leaders claim the PSS would be equivalent to giving migrants citizenship.

Warisan, which has been struggling to win the debate, plans to hold a town hall session to explain about the pass.

Kimanis stallowner, Fatima, sells anchovies and popular Sabah food like amplang and kuih cincin at a stall at Batu 30 Kimanis-Beaufort road. The people in the area are traditionally into business, fishing or employed as civil servants. Like most towns in Sabah, Kimanis is left with an ageing population as the youth venture out to cities like Kota Kinabalu or Kuala Lumpur, seeking work.

Backward towns and migrating youths

Small town Kimanis faces the same problem as Sandakan, where the lack of jobs has forced many young folk to seek opportunities elsewhere, in Kota Kinabalu or in Kuala Lumpur, leaving the district with an ageing population.

Bongawan and Membakut towns have little to offer, and many young people prefer to seek work in the city.

Those who remain are mostly school-going children and older folks, says 56-year-old resident Awang Kecil Damit.

“Many Kimanis folks are into some kind of business. There are not many fishermen anymore. Either they are in business or they are government servants – that is it.

“Most of the folks here open up stalls along the main Papar-Beaufort road selling food like ‘amplang’, anchovies and fish to support themselves,” he said.

After decades of BN rule, folks in Bongawan are still troubled by the smallest of issues such as the lack of banks or even ATM machines, he added.

Stalls along the Kimanis-Beaufort road, a common sight on the way to the Membakut-Labuan ferry terminal or Sipitang. The road is normally used by tourists from Brunei who drive through the border, entering the state from Sipitang.

“The only way for us to withdraw or keep money is to drive up 10 minutes to Membakut town or to Beaufort, or down to Papar.”

Awang Damit said the town used to be booming when the Sabah oil and gas terminal and Kimanis power plant took off.

He said many Kimanis youths had looked forward to getting a job, hoping that investors would come to town and invest in real estate.

But sadly, once all the positions were filled, Kimanis was left with nothing but an ageing population, he said.

Awang Damit said the majority of the population in Kimanis now are those between their mid-30s and 50s. Many of its youth have already found work in the city.

The poor are worse off as many of their children are trapped in the quiet town with nowhere to go, he added.

“There are also no hotels around Kimanis, only a few small homestays operators.”

He fears that one day, Bongawan will suffer the same fate as the old Pekan Kimanis town – left abandoned if nothing is done to create more employment opportunities.