Analysts: Kadazandusun Murut seats will be hot battleground in Sabah poll; PBS enjoy advantage over the rest

A Parti Bersatu Sabah flag is pictured in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah September 13, 2020. — Picture by Firdaus Latif
A Parti Bersatu Sabah flag is pictured in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah September 13, 2020. — Picture by Firdaus Latif

KOTA KINABALU, Sept 15 — Analysts believe it will be Parti Bersatu Sabah that may emerge slightly ahead in the 20 seats where it will face its allies from Perikatan Nasional (PN) during the state election later this month. 

Right after nomination day, political parties within PN started pointing fingers over who had started the sabotage and who is to be blamed for the overlapping seats in almost a third of the total 73 seats up for contest in the election. 

University Malaysia Sabah’s Lee Kuok Tiung said although convention put the split in Warisan government’s favour, that might not be the case this time. 

The political analyst said in a one-on-one fight, a split in party support may be in favour of the current government, but in these multi-cornered fights, where credible independents may earn significant votes, it can be anybody’s game.

“Based on past outcomes, and the recent Kimanis by-election, we know that the KDMR support for Warisan is not there,” he said.

KDMR is the acronym for Kadazandusun, Murut and Rungus, who are traditionally non-Muslim natives of Sabah. KDM is used colloquially as a political term to describe the racial group. In this election, the clashes among allies are almost all in KDM seats.

Lee predicted that PBS might emerge as the winner as the party still commanded respect and loyalty from the KDM community on the ground compared to their counterparts. 

He said Sabah’s political history has shown that voters have remained loyal to PBS through multiple political turmoils even when several of its leaders left the party to form their own, including Tan Sri Bernard Dompok, who started Party Demokratik Sabah (now known as Upko) and Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah’s (PBRS) Tan Sri Joseph Kurup.

Although PBS’ popularity has waned over the years, both Upko and PBRS are seen to have never achieved the same heights as PBS’ influence in Sabah during its heyday.  

“PBS’ name, the logo, and their identity resonates with the people. By using their own flag, they might earn more votes, unlike its partner STAR, who is now contesting on a PN ticket,” he said, adding that PBRS’ support was also limited to a small area.

PBS’ most glittering years began in 1985 when president Tan Sri Joseph Pairin Kitingan broke away from the ruling Berjaya government at the time and governed the state for nine years, going against the BN federal government at one point.

They were seen as a Sabah nationalist party and only lost the state government when defections in the 1994 elections allowed BN to gain the power of the state.

UiTM political analyst Tony Paridi Bagang said that this time, PBS has positioned itself well by being on the side of the federal government but not within the PN or Barisan Nasional coalition, putting itself at the best vantage point.

“PBS may view this as the right time to test its popularity by going on its own and using its own flag. It could be seen as a step to revive the party,” he said.

PBS’ issue is that it is seen to be irrelevant to the urban and younger generation, following Pairin’s retirement.

They do not have the same reverence as Pairin who was seen as the Huguon Siou, a cultural leader best described as the paramount leader of the Kadazandusun and as an icon of the race.

The leaders fielded this term consist of many new faces and professionals but it remains uncertain whether they can attract more than the older demographic. 

Sabah Progressive Party president Datuk Seri Yong Teck Lee is convinced that in the absence of Pairin, the next KDM leader will be his brother Jeffrey.  

“Many feel that Pairin was PBS’s last great leader, and he has failed to groom a successor.

“The KDMs will realise this and unite to support him (Jeffrey),” he said.

The maverick politician may have a slightly unfavourable reputation for switching platforms, but his struggle has been consistent since the start.

“Despite being labeled as the king of frog’, he (Jeffrey) is still able to sustain his political loyalists. One of the reasons is because Jeffrey’s political struggles on Sabah’s rights are something that is very closed to the heart of Sabahans especially among the KDMs. His struggles are consistent although he changed party a few times. 

“His strategy on harping on the regional sentiment (Borneo Agenda) can convince the KDM,” said Bagang. 

Unpredictable and fickle, Jeffrey is also fearless and not afraid to walk out of an unfavourable alliance, which may earn him the respect of Sabahans.

In this state election, 26 out of the 73 seats are KDM majority seats. Some 20 seats will see clashes between the opposition alliance, although all are multi-corned fights involving 4 to 11 candidates. 

The three entities will clash in Bengkoka, Matunggong, Tandek, Kadamaian, Tanjung Aru, Kapayan, Moyog, Lumadan, Paginatan, Tambunan, Bingkor, Liawan, Melalap, Tulid, Sook, Telupid and Karamunting.

Additionally, STAR has backed several independents in at least six seats contested by PBS, including Inanam, Api Api and Kiulu. 



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