Kadazan Dusun Murut seats to be hot battlegrounds in Sabah polls

Joseph Pairin Kitingan (second from right) and Jeffrey Kitingan (right) at a Kadazan Dusun Murut event in Penampang, Sabah, last year.

KOTA KINABALU: Some of the key battles in the Sabah election will be in the Kadazan Dusun Murut (KDM) majority seats where close fights are expected between Warisan Plus and the opposition.

In the last general election, Barisan Nasional fared way better than Warisan, winning 15 KDM-dominated seats through Umno, PBRS and its then component parties PBS and Upko.

Warisan, now with Upko on its side, will be hoping to do better than the three KDM seats it secured. Upko had won five seats in the 14th general election (GE14).

While incumbent parties generally do well in retaining their seats, political analyst Arnold Puyok of Universiti Malaysia Sarawak believes the pendulum can swing either way now.

He said the presence of a number of political parties hoping to make an impact will make it another crowded state election, with no one party able to claim total dominance in the KDM seats.

Puyok said the KDM community also lacked a leader with the stature of former PBS president Joseph Pairin Kitingan, who is the Huguan Siou (paramount leader of the KDM community).

Arnold Puyok

He said although Pairin’s younger brother, Jeffrey, who is STAR president, had the “pull factor”, it was uncertain whether it would be enough to swing the votes to the opposition.

“It looks like the split in KDM support will widen,” he told FMT.

“Sabah has never had a strong opposition front and as shown previously, they will come head to head if negotiations on seat allocation fail.”

Twenty-two seats were considered as KDM majority areas out of the 60 state seats contested in May 2018, but in the upcoming election, there could be at least four more seats with KDM majority voters, out of the 13 recently created new state seats.

This means the KDM seats will represent over a third of the 73 seats up for grabs in the 16th state election, which must be held by Sept 29.

With just over 50 days to go, with the exception of the Warisan-Upko-PKR-DAP coalition, it is still unclear what alliances will compete in the election.

The partners in the federal-level Perikatan Nasional – Sabah Umno/BN, Sabah PPBM, PBS and STAR – appear to be going on their own although most have expressed their willingness to negotiate on seat allocations.

They hope to strike an agreement to take on Warisan Plus on a one-on-one basis to boost their chances of securing victory in the KDM-majority seats.

PBS, which is a multiracial party but largely seen as a KDM outfit, had recently said it will contest at least 30 seats. It won six of the 13 seats it contested in May 2018.

STAR, which won two seats – both in KDM majority constituencies – in GE14, is also expected to claim a bigger piece of the pie to bolster its position in the state. The party, which has strong support in the interior areas, has an additional seat after Ellron Angin (Sook) crossed over from PBRS in December 2018.

Parti Cinta Sabah (PCS), led by former foreign minister Anifah Aman, is another local party to be reckoned with, according to political observers. It was a KDM-based party before but has rebranded itself as a multiracial outfit.

Other small parties like Parti Kerjasama Anak Negeri and Parti Gagasan Rakyat Sabah could also enter the fray.

Meanwhile, Puyok said Warisan would have a problem of whether to entrust Upko to challenge the majority of the KDM seats.

With Upko being criticised after switching allegiance from BN to Warisan following GE14, he said, Warisan is wary that it could be a liability allowing Upko to contest most of the seats.

“Will doing this dilute Warisan’s KDM support? It’s quite tough for them (Upko) because they will go up against PBS, STAR and even PCS,” he said.

Puyok noted that Upko had also gone through rebranding and needed to go beyond the KDM seats.

“It may be risky but if it doesn’t do it, then it will continue to be branded as a KDM party. Upko has to venture into the non-KDM territories if it wants to make an impact as a multiracial party.

“Currently, it is crucial for Upko to address two issues – its list of candidates and negotiations with Warisan and the PH allies,” he said.