KOTA KINABALU, Aug 12 — Umno and Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia may be at odds with each other in peninsular Malaysia, but in Sabah where fluid politics is an understatement, observers say the two Malay parties will be able to work out their differences for the prize of winning the upcoming state election.
Universiti Malaysia Sabah lecturer Lee Kuok Tiung said that Umno and Bersatu are expected to form a united front with the local Opposition parties Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS), Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah (PBRS) and Parti Solidariti Tanah Airku (STAR).
“It’s looking like they will form a pact, like Perikatan National, but under a different name like Muafakat Sabah. Eventually they'll find the formula to avoid the overlapping seats,” he told Malay Mail when contacted.
Lee was commenting on the two heavyweight parties which have been clashing at the federal level despite being in government together.
He believes Umno and Bersatu will reach an agreeable solution regarding the seat distribution to prevent multi-cornered fights as much as they can despite Sabah Bersatu chief Datuk Hajiji Mohd Noor’s announcement that his party will contest in 45 out the 73 state seats up for grabs, which was met with chest thumping from Sabah Umno chief Datuk Bung Mokhtar who insisted his party will go for as many seats as it can.
“I think they learnt their lesson from GE14 and would not repeat their mistake again this time,” Lee said.
“They have a common enemy and will be willing and tolerant,” he added, pointing out that the Sabah chapters of Bersatu and Umno were closely knit through family ties.
“Even if things at the federal level are shaky, Sabah Umno and Sabah Bersatu are unique; they have a special relationship that KL Umno-Bersatu does not have.
“For example, Tan Sri Musa Aman may be a heavy hitter in Umno, but his son is in Bersatu, so is his son-in-law, Membakut incumbent Datuk Ariffin Mohd Arif.
“He and Kawang incumbent Datuk Ghulam Khan are also related through their children’s marriage,” Lee said, adding that this alone solidifies their pact.
For Universiti Teknologi Mara Sabah’s Tony Paridi Bagang, the coming state election will be a litmus test for the independence accorded to Sabah Umno and Bersatu.
“They have been given autonomy, so let’s see if it pulls through,” he said.
The Opposition will also have to include PBS, PBRS and STAR, three local parties who in the past have been both friends and allies.
PBS communications chief Datuk Joniston Bangkuai said that his party is ready to discuss seat negotiations with their allies again.
“We are prepared to discuss with like minded parties which share the common objective to defeat Warisan Plus. We will contest seats where we are strongest,” he told Malay Mail, adding that the party would be contesting using its own logo again after 16 years of running under the Barisan Nasional banner.
PBS, though officially a multi-racial party, traditionally contests in non-Muslim Bumiputera seats, colloquially termed as “Kadazan-Dusun Murut seats”, which will be shared with PBRS.
In the last election, PBRS retained one seat. STAR, which won two seats and eventually became kingmaker when the two giant coalitions ended up in a stalemate of 29 seats each.
There is also a question of whether Musa’s brother, Datuk Seri Anifah Aman, will join this Umno-Bersatu-PRS-PBRS-STAR pact with his party, Parti Cinta Sabah (PCS).
For now, the battle is set between two main alliances. On one side is the yet-to-be-named Umno-Bersatu-PBS-PBRS-STAR group; and on the opposite bank is Warisan Plus comprising Parti Sabah Warisan-PKR-DAP-Upko.
PCS and its local alliance of Sabah parties may not stand a big chance of winning big, but like in GE14, small, independent parties could be the deciding ticket between losing or forming government.