Whither the KDM community in Sabah?

This is the subject much talked about during “kopi-kopi” sessions at coffee shops. The stark reality facing the Kadazan Dusun Murut (KDM) community now is the role they play in Sabah’s corridors of power.

Whether they are only just waking up to reality, or whether they have seen their diminishing powers lost through the past decades and accepted it is anybody’s guess.

But one fact remains: where they once lorded over Sabah, they are now reduced to playing a supporting role in the context of being a political powerhouse in Sabah, thanks largely to the influx of “new” voters. Their one-time strength has been further reduced by division and fragmentation over the years, as individual leaders come and go with their own agendas.

The slogan “United we stand, divided we fall” never quite registered with the KDM community. While genuine attempts were made by some KDM leaders to regroup, sadly it never really got off the ground.

In the past, some powerful names were household names. They carried weight. These included the Sodomons, Sundangs, Monjuntins, Ongkilis and Kitingans, to name a few.

There were others too, whose impact on the community was just as great but they were lesser known. In their time, they were revered and respected not just by their communities but by the public at large.

Today, about the only KDM family achieving a similar status politically is the Lasimbang family which as spawned four YBs: Philip, Jannie, Jennifer and Adrian. To be fair, Darell Leiking has become somewhat of a leader of his people but only in Penampang. Outside of Penampang, he has yet to enjoy the kind of support Pairin Kitingan had when he first burst onto the scene under the Berjaya banner and later as leader of PBS. Perhaps in time to come, Darell’s influence might spread throughout the state in the same way Pairin’s did. But for now, he has to content himself with being a localised leader in his area.

In the grand design of things, the KDM community must not and cannot play second fiddle to anyone governing the state of Sabah. Go back in time to the 60s and you will know how the community tipped the balance. Not anymore. Voting power has changed hands. So has the demographics.

Perhaps the rejection of the Malaya-based Barisan Nasional in GE14 has given them new impetus. It would be silly not to build on this momentum. Jeffery Kitingan, for all the sins of the past, has seemingly taken up the mantle and is now the most vocal KDM on issues close to the community.

While Jeffery has credibility issues, the KDM community might just decide to overlook this in their search for a new revered leader to replace the soon-to-retire Pairin Kitingan. Unless and until they can come together as one and find that leader, they will continue to be the bridesmaid in the corridors of power in Sabah.

Such a scenario is a boon for the other players in this field. The policy of divide and conquer is nothing new in politics. What would be new to all and sundry would be for the KDMs to reject this policy. But to do so, they must put aside their differences first. Political will and desire must co-exist as one.

Whether this will be achievable or not will depend on one thing and one thing alone.

Exactly how sincere are you?

Clement Stanley is an FMT reader.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.