Sabah Opposition still torn over unified front for Sandakan race

Jeffrey Kitingan said Sabah Opposition parties have yet to decide on their candidate for the Sandakan by-election. ― Picture by Saw Siow Feng
Jeffrey Kitingan said Sabah Opposition parties have yet to decide on their candidate for the Sandakan by-election. ― Picture by Saw Siow Feng

KOTA KINABALU, April 18 — With just ten days until nomination for the Sandakan by-election, Sabah’s Opposition parties are scrambling for consensus on a single candidate to take on DAP in the federal seat.

With PAS, Umno, and former Barisan Nasional component Liberal Democratic Party out of contention, the parties in the running are now Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS), Parti Solidariti Tanah Air Ku (Sabah STAR), Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) and MCA.

“We are talking, we are hoping to have a decision by next week,” said STAR president Datuk Dr Jeffrey Kitingan.

“We are hoping to come out with one Opposition candidate that is acceptable to all, the best choice,” he said, adding that he was not sure if all the parties will agree as some were still “testing the electoral mood”. 

The matter is made complicated by the convoluted arrangements among the state Opposition parties.

STAR and PBS are in the Gabungan Bersatu Sabah (GBS) coalition but the former is also part of the Gabungan Sabah (GS) pact with SAPP, Parti Perpaduan Rakyat Sabah (PPRS), and Parti Kebangsaan Sabah (PKS).

Neither coalition is yet recognised by the Registrar of Societies, which Kitingan acknowledged.

“I hope that we can work under one banner eventually. But we will see which coalition gets registered by the ROS first and we will work with it,” he said.

The Election Commission has set polling for May 11. The by-election was triggered after the incumbent, Sabah DAP chairman Datuk Stephen Wong, died of a sudden heart attack on March 28.

For now, the state DAP looks set to put up his 30-year-old daughter, Vivian Wong, as its candidate to be his replacement.

STAR previously named economist Jenny Liew as its potential candidate for the seat.

At least three independents — ex-Sabah Amanah chairman Hamzah Abdullah, former oil palm company manager Chia Siew Yung, and youth activist Jufadzil Shi Ahmad — have also stated their intention to contest for the parliamentary seat.

Hamzah told Malay Mail he was optimistic as public sentiment has turned against Pakatan Harapan since its upset general election victory while Chia has said he wants to represent Sandakan without being obligated to a party.

Jufazli, an outspoken activist, ran for the Tanjung Papat state seat last May after plans to contest the Sungai Sibuga state seat went awry; he lost the seat to DAP’s Datuk Frankie Poon and took just 3.7 per cent of the votes cast, losing his deposit.

Sandakan has 39,777 registered voters comprising 49 per cent Chinese, 44 per cent Muslim Bumiputra and 6 per cent non-Muslim Bumiputra.