M’sia At Turning Point, Says Umno Warlord Turned Opposition Leader

Shafie Apdal is leading the main opposition – Parti Warisan, DAP and PKR – onslaught in Sabah. Most of the seats have been finalised.

KOTA KINABALU: He was once regarded as among Umno’s most powerful warlords. Today, Sabah politician Shafie Apdal, 60, predicts its days are numbered.

“Najib and Umno are fighting too many fronts,” he said, referring to prime minister Najib Razak, who is Umno president.

In an interview last week, Shafie listed the political woes dogging the premier and the ruling party: the fallout from the 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) scandal, widespread public disenchantment over spikes in the cost of living, and the coming together of an unlikely cast of national political leaders to take on the Umno-led Barisan Nasional coalition government.


“It would have never come to my mind that Dr Mahathir, Kit Siang and Anwar would one day work together. But that is what is happening now… This is a turning point,” Shafie said, referring to the opposition Pakatan Harapan alliance led by former PM Mahathir Mohamad, veteran Democratic Action Party chief Lim Kit Siang, and Dr Mahathir’s former deputy PM Anwar Ibrahim of Parti Keadilan Rakyat.

Shafie, a former civil servant, has emerged as a key player for the opposition.

His uncle, Sakaran Dandai, was a former chief minister of Sabah and responsible for pushing Shafie’s political career forward. After moving up the ranks of the state Umno chapter, Shafie burst onto the national political scene in 2011 when he was elected as one of Umno’s three vice-presidents, the first Sabahan to clinch a major position in the ruling party.


But this political trajectory in Umno came to an abrupt end when he was sacked by Najib in July 2015 after the two of them clashed over the 1MDB scandal.

Shafie has since returned to his political heartland, and his newly formed Parti Warisan Sabah, a multi-ethnic but predominantly Muslim political party, is waging a campaign to wrest control of the state from the Umno-led BN.

In an interview in his modest double-story bungalow in a leafy neighbourhood flanked by a golf course on the outskirts of the state capital, Shafie insisted that Warisan’s untested political record was no obstacle to seizing Sabah.

“The party is well represented by leaders from various communities in Sabah and the people here want change. That is a signal that I am receiving from my campaign all over the state,” he said.

Among the unending stream of visitors to his home just after polling day was announced was former chief minister and Umno leader Osu Sukam, together with several other senior state civil servants.

“This is typical Sabah politics,” a senior aide to quipped about Osu’s presence. “That Shafie could become the next CM (chief minister) is real, so people need to hedge their bets.” – Leslie Lopez/The Straits Times

• This article first appeared in The Straits Times (Singapore) on April 18, 2018