How far can Shafie go?


By Arnold Puyok


It must be tough going for Shafie Apdal as he tries to revive his political career. What is he up to? Will he form a new party that is closely aligned with Sabah-based opposition parties? Can he make a difference?

His support is concentrated mainly in the East Coast and Semporna proper. During his heyday as federal minister, he spent much of his time juggling his ministerial and party duties. Through a combination of strong family ties and patronage protection, he cultivated an almost unbreakable relationship with the Bajau and Suluk voters in the East Coast.

Away from the East Coast, however, he has little influence. Unlike Musa Aman, Salleh Said Keruak and Masidi Manjun, he has no affinity with the Kadazandusun generally. This is one of his main weaknesses.

Securing the support of the Kadazandusun is important as they collectively represent nearly 40 per cent of Sabah’s population.

Shafie’s close association with KDM Malaysia is seen as his attempt to win the support of the Kadazandusun. But the Kadazandusun mainly see KDM Malaysia as an outfit created to weaken their support for KDCA (Kadazandusun Cultural Association) and PBS (Parti Bersatu Sabah). Without a clear vision and credible leadership, the future of KDM Malaysia remains uncertain.

Most Kadazandusun are with the KDCA and USDA (United Sabah Dusun Association). The latest addition is the MNC (Momogun National Congress), which is gaining popularity for its pragmatic socio-economic programmes.

Without a strong Kadazandusun support base, it will be difficult for Shafie to widen his grassroots support beyond the East Coast.

His next challenge is to form an alliance with local-based opposition parties. This will not be easy as Shafie is long known for his pro-federal policies. A sudden U-turn could backfire as many would see it as his attempt to revive his fading popularity. The questions are: What difference can Shafie make? Will he propose more innovative policy prescriptions for a better Sabah? Or, will he simply promote the “Sabah for Sabahans” battle cry without offering anything constructive?

It is possible for Shafie to form his own party or take over any of the existing parties in Sabah. Recruiting new members and making the new party relevant to Sabahans will be his main challenge. If he succeeds in forming an alliance with local-based opposition parties, what policy platform would the alliance promote and who would lead it?

Whether he likes it or not, Shafie, the new “Sabah champion”, will have to join the other local champions long known for their anti-federal and strong regional outlook. While many in Sabah have welcomed his return to state politics, others have this to say to him: “All the best gaman.”

Dr Arnold Puyok heads the Department of Politics and International Relations, Faculty of Social Sciences, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak.

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