Anifah Aman must have had good reasons to sit out the Kimanis by-election last month.
Despite being the Kimanis incumbent, the former foreign minister declared that he would forego the by-election but would be back to contest it again during the 15th general election, due in 2023.
And he was quick to act on his comeback plan.
Less than a month after the by-election, Anifah hosted a meeting with leaders of opposition parties in Kota Kinabalu last week, in what is clearly his first comeback move.
The Sabah political veteran must have been bolstered by Umno’s victory in Kimanis – a clear sign that the ruling Parti Warisan Sabah is weak and vulnerable.
Kimanis was the first by-election for Warisan after GE14 and party president and Chief Minister Shafie Apdal was said to have been stunned by the defeat. Like many, politicians and pundits alike, he did not see it coming.
Perhaps Anifah miscalculated the sentiments of the voters in Kimanis before the by-election. I do not blame him because I was also wrong in my assessment. I had thought Warisan could pull through easily.
If Anifah was confident that he could win, he would surely have entered the fray. Perhaps he was also too proud to rejoin Umno and fight on a Barisan Nasional ticket. He left Umno soon after GE14 and became an independent MP until his GE14 victory was declared null and void by the court.
It has been confirmed that Anifah was offered to defend Kimanis on an Umno ticket by party president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi but he declined, possibly out of principle.
Perhaps Anifah felt it was time to sever ties with Umno for good and join forces with Sabah opposition leaders in a local party. Hence, his initiative to host the meeting on Feb 10.
I think Anifah is on the right track to propose that a new alliance of opposition parties in the state, dubbed Perpaduan Rakyat, be established to take on Warisan and Pakatan Harapan in GE15.
Although his proposal for the opposition parties in Sabah to dissolve in order to form a single opposition party was rejected, Anifah was not way off in stressing on the need for a united opposition front.
Among the established parties which are not keen to dissolve are Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS), Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP), Parti Solidariti Tanah Airku (Sabah Star) and Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah (PBRS).
Sabah Star president and state opposition leader Jeffrey Kitingan announced that in a follow-up discussion on Feb 15, the opposition leaders decided that established parties would form a coalition while the smaller parties would be merged to form a new party.
The smaller Sabah parties are Parti Cinta Sabah, Parti Gagasan Rakyat Sabah and Parti Kerjasama Anak Negeri. All their leaders and Jeffrey were at the Jan 10 meeting with Anifah.
I believe that Anifah still has a major role to play in Sabah politics. He should continue with his efforts to help unite the opposition and build up a force strong enough to give the ruling coalition a run for its money. This will also enable him to project a new image to Sabahans, one which will hopefully win him more respect and support.
Whether it is called Perpaduan Rakyat or Gabungan Sabah, it really does not matter. After all, what’s in a name?
When GE15 comes along, it would be wise for Anifah to join one of the Sabah parties or, at least, contest under the ticket of one of them. Such an arrangement could easily be sorted out.
Forming a party of his own will not be a good idea because that would not put him in good stead as a major unifying force among the Sabah opposition.
Anifah must prove to Sabah voters that his BN/Umno days are a dark chapter of the past and that he deserves another chance to start afresh.
A unifying role within Sabah’s fragmented opposition will be his best comeback plan yet.
Francis Paul Siah heads the Movement for Change, Sarawak.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.