The decision by a once-powerful Sabah political party to contest more than half of the 73 seats in the coming state polls has been seen by some observers as the result of tension between PKR and Warisan, allies which have been at loggerheads over seat allocations within the Pakatan Harapan (PH) bloc.
They say the return of the United Sabah National Organisation (Usno), which was resurrected in 2013 decades after its dissolution in the 1990s when Umno opened shop in Sabah, can be linked to PKR’s unhappiness over the “ultimatum” from its dominant state partner Warisan to contest only seven state seats.
PKR is the only PH partner which has refused to contest under the Warisan banner, unlike DAP and Amanah, the two other peninsula-based parties vying for seats under the so-called Warisan Plus coalition.
Its leader Anwar Ibrahim had lobbied for 14 candidates from PKR but failed to convince his Warisan counterpart, Shafie Apdal.
A source in Warisan who spoke to MalaysiaNow said Shafie’s outright refusal was no surprise, and that the Sabah strongman had long believed that Anwar had no influence in the state.
“In the last election, PKR only won two out of the eight seats it contested. So this time, Shafie is challenging PKR to prove its clout by winning seven seats,” the source said on condition of anonymity.
The two seats won by PKR in the 2018 polls were Api-Api and Inaman.
In the upcoming election on Sept 26, it is trying its luck in five more: Tempasuk, Tamparuli, Matunggong, Klias and Sook.
The enmity between Anwar and Shafie, the latter of whom is seen as close to former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, is no secret.
Their relationship dipped further when Mahathir said he preferred Shafie as PH’s candidate for prime minister, a proposal mooted by DAP and backed by Amanah.
A victory for the Warisan Plus coalition would boost Shafie’s image – a clear threat to Anwar at the federal level.
Usno big guns
Despite being relegated to the backwaters of Sabah’s politics, Usno has brought forward prominent personalities to represent the party, including its leader Pandikar Amin Mulia, who was Dewan Rakyat speaker during the Najib Razak administration.
Others include former Sabah Customs director Hamzah Sundang, former deputy chief of the state Special Branch Ahmad Kenajaan, former Sarawak cultural director Laliman Kemad @ Haji Ahmad, and former senior state attorney Mohd Salleh Lamsin.
Usno was originally an ethnic Suluk-Bajau-based party. In its heyday, it governed Sabah under Mustapha Harun and Mohammad Said Keruak, icons who shaped Sabah’s politics in the 1960s and 1970s.
Its decline followed the rise of PBS in the 1990s under Joseph Pairin Kitingan.
It was dissolved in 1996, not long after Mustapha engineered Umno’s new chapter in Sabah. It made a comeback in 2013 under Usno Baru.
But stripped of its former political influence, its candidates in the coming election are seen as at risk of losing their deposits.
A former Usno member, Johari Aklee, 60, claims the party is bent on splitting support for all major parties.
“Usno has deliberately entered the ring in order to split the votes of Sabahans in general, specifically the Bumiputeras,” he told MalaysiaNow.
When questioned on the matter in a press conference held by the Usno leadership on Sept 16, Pandikar was livid and flatly rejected the suggestion that his party was in cahoots with PKR to undermine Warisan Plus.
“There is no cooperation with PKR. This question is as if we are working together with PKR,” he said.
Pandikar also said he enjoyed good ties with all politicians.
“Remember, I was the Dewan Rakyat speaker for 10 years. I was the boss of all 222 MPs, including the prime minister. If indeed we are working with PKR, why did we place our candidates in areas where PKR is contesting, such as Tempasuk?”
Collision in 3 seats only
Interestingly, PKR and Usno candidates will be clashing in only three seats: Tempasuk, Inanam and Klias.
But a senior PKR leader played down the issue.
“I call upon supporters of Usno to vote for PKR candidates in seats where their candidates are not contesting.
“We are pleading for people’s support – every vote counts, and whether one is a party member or not, they are free to choose,” said secretary-general Saifuddin Nasution.
The former minister also said Anwar and Pandikar were close friends on a personal level.
“But in the context of the state election, we remain an important ally of Warisan Plus,” he said.
When met, state PKR chairman Christina Liew said she had no knowledge of any alliance between her party’s leadership and Usno.
“My focus is on winning, and I’m only interested in my own seat,” the Api-Api candidate said.