How STAR’s young Turks won the day

By John Fernandez

The young Turks, a powerful lobby group within the State Reform Party (STAR), won the day when party chief Jeffrey Kitingan finally announced in Kota Kinabalu yesterday that he may go for all 60 state and 26 parliamentary seats in Sabah including Labuan at the forthcoming 13th general election.

Jeffrey made the announcement after leading 20 party leaders to meet with the the Election Commission in Kota Kinabalu for a pre-polls briefing. Ironically, he made no mention of the Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP), a member of his United Borneo Alliance (UBA).

One caveat, if any, on Jeffrey’s newly-found 60/26 approach, hinges on whether Sabah Umno veteran Lajim Ukin quits the ruling coalition to head the dormant Sabah Peoples Front (SPF). STAR will be constrained, in that case, to hand over some Dusun Muslim, known as Bisayas, seats to Lajim.

The young Turks have long been pushing for the party to go for broke on the grounds that the people must be given a democratic choice.

They are against “any form of pre-polls seat-sharing to circumvent the people’s will”.

Besides, going for broke would be a referendum of sorts on STAR’s Borneo Agenda, the young Turks reason. Jeffrey subscribes to the referendum view and had been hoping that SAPP will come along as well.

If the young Turks have now gained the upper hand in the party, the credit must largely go to SAPP which broke ranks in the UBA and unilaterally forged a seat-sharing pact over the weekend with Pakatan Rakyat, the Peninsular Malaysia-based national opposition alliance.

Besides STAR and SAPP, other members of the UBA in Sabah are the still to be re-registered United Sabah National Organisation (Usno) and several NGOs – United Borneo Front (UBF), Common Interest Group Malaysia (CigMA), Borneo Heritage Foundation (BHF), the Borneo Forum (BF) and the Borneo chapters of the United Kingdom-based Human Rights Foundation of Malaysia (HRF). Usno will be fielding candidates under the STAR symbol.

Spineless SAPP

It’s not known how the seats in Sabah will be shared between SAPP and Pakatan.

The only information available is what Sabah PKR chief, Thamrin Haji Jaini, has been reportedly whispering about in town, which is that SAPP will keep its present two parliamentary seats in Tawau and Sepanggar and field candidates in 35 of the 60 state seats. The rest will go to Pakatan.

In an immediate reaction, STAR supporters are saying it’s déjà vu.

In 1994, the breakaway SAPP was in “cahoots” with Anwar Ibrahim – then with Umno – to do a number on Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) led by then Sabah chief minister Joseph Pairin Kitingan.

Old habits die hard or rather a leopard doesn’t change its spots!

Eighteen years later, SAPP is again in cahoots with the same Anwar – now with PKR – to do a number on Jeffrey.

Nothing seems to have changed in Sabah. The more things appear to change in the state, the more they remain the same.

Anwar, adding insult to injury, let it be known in the media before he left town recently, that he’s open to offering some of Pakatan’s seats to an opposition party in Sabah.

Anwar has SPF in mind, according to Sabah PKR insiders and has no intentions to part with any to STAR “given imminent developments”.

The “imminent developments”, according to Sabah PKR activists, hinge on United PasokMomogun KadazanDusunMurut Organisation (Upko) deputy president Wilfred Mojilip Bumburing joining PKR to woo native votes away from Jeffrey and back to the Sabah chapter of the Peninsular Malaysia-based party.

Stumbling block

Hence, Anwar sees no need for Jeffrey or his STAR in the political equation in Sabah. The opposition leader has long seen the Kitingan family, the only political dynasty in Sabah, as the ultimate stumbling block in his political designs on the state.

STAR insiders point out that under a deal struck within Upko, Bumburing has to make way for his fellow party leader Wilfred Madius Tangau in the Tuaran parliamentary seat. That means Bumburing’s position in Upko has become untenable.

Also, in a further sign of Bumburing’s long-waning political fortunes, he had to pull out recently from bidding for the Upko Tuaran divisional head’s post when Madius obtained an overwhelming majority of the nominations.

Bumburing sees this as the ultimate humiliation in a division where his family has long been the local warlords and mini-political dynasty.

Jeffrey’s 60/26 declaration, no longer a warning shot across the bow, will not come as a complete surprise to SAPP.

Another caveat on the 60/26 approach is a STAR letter to SAPP, reportedly on its way to the latter, seeking its official position on the subject of seat sharing.

The young Turks prevailed upon Jeffrey over the weekend to give SAPP a good piece of the party’s mind for literally stabbing STAR in the back.

Jeffrey agreed that they could draft a letter to SAPP which would be signed by a deputy chairman, Daniel John Jambun, a noted hawk in the party.

The thrust of the letter in its draft form, several young Turks revealed, was that SAPP should not have gone off at a tangent on a limb and unilaterally forged a seat-sharing pact with “the parti-parti Malaya” eyeing seats in Sabah.

By doing so, STAR held, SAPP had broken ranks in UBA “and this is not the done thing”.

STAR worried

Wither the Borneo Alliance and the Borneo Agenda, STAR asked SAPP.

And who are these “parti-parti Malaya” to come to Sabah and say in the local media that they “will consider” giving some seats to local parties? STAR also asked SAPP.

The STAR letter also castigated SAPP for declaring in the media, after the seat-sharing pact, that it was only interested in the state seats in Sabah and had “conceded those in Parliament for the state to the parti-parti Malaya”.

STAR’s worry, as outlined in the letter to SAPP, is that Peninsular Malaysia has more than the “less than two-thirds” seats in parliament envisaged by the Malaysia Agreement.

“If the parti-parti Malaya are allowed to cross the South China Sea to our side and grab even more seats in parliament, at our further expense, the imbalance of seats will surely worsen…

“In short, the parti-parti Malaya want to have their cake and eat it too… they want to further strengthen themselves in Parliament but at our expense”, the letter stated, adding that this would further “weaken our position in Parliament”.

The issue of the possible rectification of the imbalance of seats in Parliament, as recommended by the recent Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC), must also be kept in mind, according to the STAR letter.

“If the parti-parti Malaya are allowed by local parties, either by omission or act, to represent Sabah and Sarawak in Parliament, they will be in a position to grab the additional seats implied in PSC’s recommendation.”

Sabah and Sarawak have autonomy under the Malaysia Agreement, noted the STAR letter.

“However, it’s not logical to expect the parti-parti Malaya to defend our autonomy and speak up in Parliament or the state assembly on issues which affect us.”

Flogging a dead horse

Tearing into the local members in the “parti-parti Malaya”, the letter virtually describes them as traitors who are willing, “for the proverbial 30 pieces of silver, to be proxies and stooges of the orang Malaya”.

“These are the worst enemies that a people could have as leaders… Let there be no mistake about that. We are simply kidding ourselves if we think otherwise,” states the letter.

The STAR letter asks SAPP for its “official position” on the sharing of seats with STAR and “if really necessary, with any other parties”.

In addition, STAR wants “an assurance” from SAPP of its continued membership in the UBA.

“Are you still in or out?” it asked SAPP

The answer seems to be obvious but STAR, for reasons best known to it, insists on flogging a dead horse.

The fact that SAPP chose to engage in seat-sharing talks with PKR, if not Pakatan, without consulting with STAR, speaks volumes.

SAPP has been obsessed with re-inventing itself – since leaving the Barisan Nasional coalition on Sept 17, 2008 – and seeking continued relevance in Sabah politics.

However, Sabahans will have nothing left if their political leaders insist on selling, for reasons of short-term political expediency, their souls to the devil himself.

Being caught between the devil and the deep blue sea is no reason to push the panic buttons.

No choice situation

It has been said that better the known devil than the unknown angel. Having said that, do Sabahans want to position themselves post-13th general election merely to go from the frying pan into the fire or vice-versa?

These either or situations are no choices for Sabah and Sarawak.

No doubt, in the next step, STAR and its UBA allies will go for all 31 parliamentary seats in Sarawak. Win or lose or even lose deposit should not matter.

The people should decide, as the young Turks in STAR are preaching to their elders.

Democracy will prevail.

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