By JOE SAMAD
COMMENT: In the next 48 hours, Sabahans will be heading to the election booth to cast the vote for the party they favour. Why the party they favour and not the candidates? It’s quite simple – a lot of the candidates like the ones in Parti Warisan Sabah are new faces and many voters are not familiar with them or their backgrounds.
There is no longer any doubt Warisan is the leading opposition party in Sabah. For Warisan supporters, they will be voting candidates based on blind faith and the belief that Warisan is best bet to make the change under Shafie’s leadership. That may not be enough for some fence sitters who may need more assurance that the candidates in his or her constituency can deliver the campaign promise.
In Sabah, there is visible euphoria and anticipation at every Warisan’s political gatherings. Shafie’s charismatic presence and rock star like status has attracted huge followings. People want to touch him, feel the person and take selfies with him. When he speaks, people cling to his every word, helped by the slick and highly emotional Warisan videos played on a giant screen.
Shafie is no longer the forlorn and dejected figure when he was arrested by the MACC on suspicion of corruption in October, 2017. Shafie has gone from strength to strength gathering momentum driving a small steamroller to a now unstoppable juggernaut. He has managed to brush the “suluk” label and convinced several past UMNO leaders to come out of the woodwork to do battle with their former comrades in BN under the Warisan banner.
Warisan alliances with DAP and PKR seems to be working out well and appear solid. This is unlike Parti Cinta Sabah, the once upon a time alliance with Warisan, where mass leadership desertions and members exodus has taken place. The KDM mosquito parties still did not get the message that people want unity and not a fragmented opposition.
Lim Kit Siang, the face of DAP has the same adulation like Shafie judging by the reception he received during his visit to Kota Kinabalu a few days ago. Kit Siang, the 77-year-old veteran with battleface scars to show, still has the swagger to draw huge crowds. The audience reply to his questions enthusiastically and in unison during his speech, and mob him for ‘selfies’ and autographs after his stage show. Sometimes you wonder what motivates this man.
BN political gatherings in constituencies are more subdued unlike the boisterous crowd at Warisan or DAP political gatherings. The crowds have heard it all – more funds to repair this and that, improve the infrastructure, and promises of more cash handouts. It has become routine almost to the point of being boring. People whisper what have you done in the last four years?
The coffee shop chatter has now started to move into the future – what happens if Warisan wins, form the next state government and Mahathir becomes the new Prime Minister. Sabahans have not forgotten Project IC resulting in an influx of dubious citizenship, and the rotation of Chief Ministers which many Sabahans regard as unconstitutional. The mere mention of Mahathir’s name can bring out foul-mouthed expletives which needs no repeating.
Someone countered that if Mahathir sinned by bringing project IC to Sabah, Najib did the same by not taking any action after the RCI reached it conclusion. Till this day Sabahans are still angered by project IC and how it altered the demographics and made the ethnic groups of Sabah a minority in their own country. Promises of more development and returning Sabah rights is easier to deal with, but the issue of “illegal” citizenship is more complex.
The question of “what if” Warisan forms the next government starts a new debate. Do they have what it takes to run a government? What will be the relationship like with Federal with Mahathir back in power, even if just for a short while?
In this campaign, Shafie has managed to shut out Mahathir from coming to Sabah. (Shafie’s reason for this is that Mahathir is busy with his campaign in the peninsular while Shafie takes care of Sabah). It was a wise decision as Mahathir is a lightning rod for all kinds of negativity. He would be an unwanted distraction although many have forgiven him for his trespasses.
For now, Warisan strategy is to wrest BN’s fixed deposit state and turn it into a high-yielding investment with the proceeds going to the people. If Shafie manages to succeed, Malaysian politics will no longer be the same.
In the past opposition parties have blamed East Malaysians for returning BN with strong mandates. Sabah is ready for change though Sarawak is still solid behind BN. The awakening of people’s power is still not with Sarawak, despite their loud political rhetoric on several issues like oil rights. They say empty barrels makes the most noise.
Sabahans has always an independent streak about them. They defeated Mahathir’s famous last stand, “We will sink or swim with Berjaya” and voted in an opposition government under PBS. This time around, will it be a government of Sabah for Sabahans working with the Federal government?
The idea may be far-fetched for some but if the crowd support for Warisan at its political gatherings is an indication of things to come, it could be a realty.
• Joe Samad is a former deputy director of Yayasan Sabah and now spends his free time writing political commentaries. He is also a member of G25, as well an entrepreneur, holding a Doctorate in Business from University of South Australia.