In Sabah, a new political landscape takes shape
KUALA LUMPUR, July 29 — A new political future may dawn in Malaysia soon as two senior Sabah Barisan Nasional (BN) leaders, chafing at Putrajaya’s bit, move to launch their own parties aligned to the rival Pakatan Rakyat (PR) faction today in the run-up to key national polls.
Umno’s Datuk Seri Lajim Ukin (picture) and United Pasokmomogun Kadazandusun Murut Organisation’s (UPKO) Datuk Seri Wilfred Mojilip Bumburing will be launching two new political fronts Pakatan Perubahan Sabah (PPS) and Angkatan Perubahan Sabah (APS) in Beaufort and Tuaran respectively later today, PKR-run news portal Keadilan Daily reported last night.
PKR de facto chief Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is expected to be present as a special guest, according to his party’s official news site.
A former deputy prime minister-turned-opposition leader who aims to take federal power in the next general elections that must be called by next April, Anwar had flown into the BN’s eastern stronghold late last night and is expected to grace the two launches today.
Lajim’s PPS, scheduled to be launched at 6pm in Beaufort, is composed of mostly Malay Muslim members while Bumburing’s APS, slated to kick off earlier at 1pm, is seen to be dominated by the Kadazan-Dusun-Murut community.
With this move, the two seasoned politicians are sending out signals that they no longer have qualms with shifting their allegiances away from the powerful BN coalition that has held sway for the past half a century, since Malaysia was formed in 1963.
Lajim is an Umno Supreme Council member, while Bumburing is deputy president UPKO, a BN component party.
Both of them have previously been coy about joining PKR, but had quit their positions in BN.
Lajim, who holds a federal position as deputy minister of housing and local government, had caused a stir yesterday when he made a surprise announcement at dusk that he was giving up all his positions in Umno and BN to work with PR for Sabah’s interest.
“From now on, I resign from all posts in Umno because (I am) no longer confident that the party is able to take care of Sabahans,” Lajim was quoted as saying by Keadilan Daily.
The Beaufort MP was reported pledging his allegiance to PR to rehabilitate Sabah from oppression and injustice.
He resigned as Beaufort Umno division chief and Beaufort BN chairman with immediate effect, after having quit his Kerambai Kebatu Umno branch chief post earlier.
The Sabah lawmaker said he would let the ruling party decide on his party membership and his post as deputy minister of housing and local government.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak has said a decision on Lajim’s position as deputy housing and local government minister would be made on Monday, even as he played down the withdrawal of the Sabah veteran at a crucial point ahead of elections speculated to be held in September, after Muslims celebrate Aidilfitri.
“I am not surprised by his decision. In any case no one is bigger than the party and it is loyalty that counts.
“We accept the fact that there is a difference in opinion between us but these can be resolved through the right channels and it is only whether it can be done quickly or not,” the PM and BN president was quoted by Bernama as saying after performing terawih prayers at Masjid Ubudiah Kampung Mambang in his home state of Pahang.
Najib said leaders quitting Umno was not something new as even party founder Datuk Onn Jaafar himself had taken this path, Bernama reported.
“Nevertheless, as an experienced party, we can overcome this challenge,” Najib told reporters.
Bumburing, who is also Tuaran MP, had relinquished his BN division chief post last week.
Both are seen as vocal champions of Sabah’s issues.
In Sabah, the deep-seated issue of illegal immigrants who have been fast-tracked for citizenship will likely be used as a key campaign issue in the coming polls.
The Najib administration had agreed to set up a royal inquiry panel on the issue last year but the ire from native-born citizens has been building up as Putrajaya is seen to drag its feet in carrying out investigations.
Federal seats in east Malaysia’s Sabah and Sarawak are expected to be PR’s focal point come the elections as both states, including the federal territory of Labuan, make up a whopping 57 seats, or 25 per cent of the 222 parliamentary seats available.
In Election 2008, BN retained power over the Putrajaya administrative capital largely due to wins in east Malaysia and Labuan, where it made a near-clean sweep, winning 55 seats against PR’s two.
But the ruling pact lost its customary two-thirds parliamentary majority after only securing a five-seat margin ahead of PR in the peninsula, winning in just 85 constituencies while PR secured 80 seats.