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KOTA KINABALU, April 6 — It promises to be a grand affair. The launch today to mark the entry of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) into the state has seen workers labouring round the clock to get things ready.
Organising chairman Datuk Hajiji Noor said they are expecting up to 30,000 people; no mean feat in a state which rarely sees crowds of half that number.
The venue — the International Technology and Commercial Centre (ITCC) in Penampang — has never seen an event of this scale.
The event will begin at 1pm with stage performances followed by speeches. Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is expected to speak at 4pm.
ITCC developer Caesar Mandela Malakun said the ballroom, exhibition centre, outdoor stage and mall atrium can each hold 5,000 people.
“Realistically, we can fit 20,000 comfortably,” he said.
Whether the national Malay party can attract a crowd of that size is one thing, but political observers are eyeing the line-up of its state leaders which will give them an idea of the party’s future in Sabah.
“I will be watching closely. It will be interesting to see the make up of their supporters, whether they can attract more than just the Muslim Bumiputera crowd.
“In the past, Umno has had a few non-Muslim leaders and members, so it will be interesting to see the leadership line-up at this convention,” said political lecturer Raheezah Shah.
He said that if the party attracts non-Muslim Bumiputeras — often refered to as KDM, the acronym for Kadazan Dusun Murut — it would mean UPKO, PBS and to a certain extent, Warisan and perhaps Bersatu will be fighting for their support.
“Will it mean the KDMs do not trust Warisan? If there is no KDM in the line-up, then how will they reach out to the non-Muslim Bumis? That’s why the line-up is important,” he said.
The line-up is expected to see Hajiji named state chairman, followed by prominent former Umno leaders like Datuk Masidi Manjun and Datuk Ronald Kiandee, who are among nine state assemblymen and five MPs who quit Umno last December and joined Bersatu when the time came.
So far, eight former Umno assemblymen have officially joined Bersatu in a small ceremony in Putrajaya two weeks ago, but word has it they have 10,000 members already in Sabah.
With Bersatu’s arrival, Warisan, as the biggest party in the Warisan-PKR-DAP-UPKO combo, stands to be the biggest loser with the most shared supporter demographic.
Pre-May 9, Bersatu leader Dr Mahathir and Warisan president Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal had an agreement that Bersatu would not come to Sabah and Warisan would work with the PH government if they won the election.
Now Shafie has to believe that the prime minister and Bersatu chairman will stick to his promise of supporting the state government and not “bring it down” from the inside.
As it is, many see the entry of Bersatu into the state as Mahathir bulldozing his way into Sabah again — a kind of Umno 2.0 — while others see it as just more “Malaya power” that the state has been fighting to get away from.
A Warisan leader, who declined to be named, hinted that the party was not happy with the turn of events despite appearances.
“We all know what’s the catch here. Sabahans are no longer gullible.
“Sabahan feelings in general are exactly my and Warisan’s feelings because we are Sabahans,” he said when contacted.
He said Warisan leaders have been invited to the launch but he did not know if they would attend, given the resentment some were feeling.
For national PH partners DAP, the move to bring Bersatu to Sabah is a good one that will strengthen both the federal and state governments
“The extension of PPBM here can help keep Umno out of power. I don’t think they’re coming here to create trouble. I strongly believe they are not eyeing positions or anything like that,” said DAP state secretary Chan Foong Hin, referring to Pribumi.
“I also don’t think they’re ‘Umno 2.0.’ Yes, they might be many of the same players and quite similar in their struggles, but in today’s political landscape, no one party can dominate the way Umno did in the past.
“They also will not be playing up racial and religious issues like before, or now. So I think it’s unfair to give them that label. That just won’t work and even Umno Sabah had to distance themselves from them,” said Chan.
Chan said that it should not be an issue for the Sabah government to work with Bersatu given the fluidity of politics.
“Politics is full of dynamics, so eventually you will reach a point where if someone wants to support you — why not? Just that you have to remember who was there during the real struggle, when things were really rough,” he said.