United opposition front in Sabah still elusive

By Alan Ting

Over the past few months, there have been meetings behind the scenes as the opposition parties in Sabah try to thrash out their differences over the seats they intend to contest in the next general election.

NONEAfter several rounds of discussion on one-on-one contests against the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN), the Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP), DAP, PKR and State Reform Party (Star) seem to have made little progress.

There are 60 state and 25 parliamentary seats in Sabah, and SAPP, run by former chief minister Yong Teck Lee, is said to be alright with the national opposition parties contesting two-third of the parliamentary seats. However, SAPP wants two-third of the state seats for local political parties to contest.

But, Sabah Star chairperson Jeffrey Kitingan (right) insisted that the national opposition parties keep out of the state.

In an interview with Bernama recently, Jeffrey said there was no doubt that each party has its own list which definitely would see some overlap (of contesting candidates), but he believed such overlap can be reduced based on the spirit of “give-and-take” among the local opposition parties.

“It is possible in some areas, but not all areas. If we can achieve one-third or even 50 percent, it would be good enough,” he said while explaining that one-to-one is only an ideal situation but it was unachievable in some areas due to strategic reasons.

Therefore, he said, voters need to be well-informed and understand that one-to-one was merely a strategy and not to discourage voters from coming out to vote for their choice of candidates.

‘Star not working with BN’   

However, some political observers believe Sabah Star was working with the BN to make it difficult for the opposition parties in Sabah to campaign on a unified front.

But Jeffrey denied such a notion. He explained that the party was still talking to other opposition parties about working out as many one-to-one contests as possible and that the idea of having a unified opposition front in Sabah was still workable.

“It is completely untrue (that Star is working with BN). Why should we waste our time? It is completely unfair to say that. This is democracy; we have the right to contest,” he said.

In fact, he said, for the next general election, Sabah Star was willing to compromise as the party was interested in contesting in Kadazan Dusun Murut (KDM) majority and mixed seats, between 20 and 30 state seats, instead of all the 60 seats as they had insisted earlier. For parliament, they intended to contest between 10 and 12 parliamentary seats in Sabah.

SAPP and the opposition PKR-DAP-PAS pact in Sabah seem to have reached an agreement on the seats they are going to contest, though discussions are still going on between them and Sabah Star.

SAPP president Yong, meanwhile, told Bernama that even though the party wanted to contest in a majority of state seats, it was willing to lower that number in order to be flexible or, as he described it, cooperate in “the spirit of sharing the burden”.

“It is a win-win formula (sharing the burden). The talks are still ongoing. It is never easy, but we hope can make some progress. To have a unified opposition front is still possible, when the time is longer,” Yong said.

Nevertheless, he said, internally the party was adopting the principle of one candidate, one seat – either state or parliamentary and no dual seats. However, he refused to reveal if he would contest a state seat or parliamentary seat, despite talk that he has set up a party election operations office in Likas.

One-to-one a challenge

Political analyst and a lecturer at UiTM Sabah, Arnold Puyok, remains sceptical about whether the parties in the state can avoid the multi-corner contest in the next general election.

He said it would be difficult for the opposition parties in the state to be united, even if they try to avoid a one-to-one contest, and some of them seemed willing to compromise.

“Everyone has his or her agenda. The problem in Sabah is that we do not know who is leading the opposition front, if any. Nobody wants to form a strong pact, everybody is going his or her own way.

“Of course they will say they are willing to compromise, but it is still very difficult. If they don’t unite, BN will have the advantage due to it being a multi-corner contest,” he told Bernama in an interview.

Whether they can compromise, Sabah BN remains unconcerned by such talk as it continues with its preparations to retain the state with a comfortable majority.

“No doubt, there are issues, such as Sabah for Sabahans, the Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) on illegal immigrants and the revenue from oil and gas that are close to the voters’ hearts. However, it is still very much the politics of development.

“The Chinese will be affected by national issues, but the Chinese-majority seats are only Kota Kinabalu and Sandakan. The BN is also taking great efforts to win them over. Overall, Sabah BN will still be able to win with a comfortable majority. There is no doubt about that,” Sabah Umno deputy chairman Salleh Said Keruak told Bernama in an interview.

Only the 13th general election will tell if the opposition front among political parties in Sabah will become a reality.  – Bernama      

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