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Which way will SAPP swing?

By Luke Rintod of FMT
The Sabah Progressive Party must decide soon on whether
it wants to ally with STAR or Pakatan Rakyat.
KOTA KINABALU: When Sabah STAR (State Reform Party) chairman Jeffrey Kitingan announced the formation of his brainchild United Borneo Alliance (UBA) on Jan 31, the main local opposition in the state, Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP), quickly denied its involvement, claiming nothing concrete had taken place. It was true.

At the time UBA was just Jeffrey’s initiative and SAPP attended the UBA’s so-called inaugural meeting between SAPP, STAR and (pro tem) Usno out of courtesy to Jeffrey.

Other Sabah political parties were also invited but they failed to turn up.

Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS), which is led by Jeffrey’s elder brother Joseph Pairin, and Upko did not even reply to UBA’s invitation.

A smaller party, Sabah People’s Party (SPF), also backed out from the UBA meeting.

So it is safe to note now that UBA, if it ever materialised as a political platform, would most likely be a tripartite grouping of STAR, SAPP and a yet-to-be registered Usno.

SAPP deputy president Amde Sidek, who represented his party at the UBA inaugural meeting, had requested two weeks for his party to discuss the UBA proposal.

And since SAPP president Yong Teck Lee has come out with a warning that Sabahans cannot trust any peninsula-based political parties, it is being read as a signal that SAPP and STAR under the UBA umbrella is now closer to reality.

At its supreme council meeting recently, SAPP deferred any decision on UBA pending a preliminary luncheon talk by Yong and SAPP top leaders with Jeffrey and his men today.

STAR wants Usno

FMT was made to understand that that Jeffrey had called for a second meeting among parties earlier this month. The meeting was chaired by former Suhakam commissioner Simon Sipaun. SAPP had apparently agreed, amidst some reservations, to join UBA.

But whether or not SAPP is officially onboard, Jeffrey, it appears, will go ahead with UBA. Insiders claim that the main contention is that STAR should not treat SAPP as a Chinese party.

“If Jeffrey agrees to Yong on this, SAPP is as good as in UBA,” said one of them.

Earlier, observers said Yong might not be keen on joining UBA and playing second fiddle to Jeffrey.

But Yong has shown pragmatism in the past and both he and Jeffrey are creative enough to perhaps jointly chair UBA.

In the meantime, whether Sabah’s most prominent political parties – SAPP and STAR – would work together in this general election is an important political decision to be taken by the two.

Both parties will compete for the same votes to grab seats from the embattled ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) in the coming general election, which could be held in weeks or months’ time.

Insiders claimed that SAPP was not very receptive to the idea of incorporating a pro tem Usno under the alliance umbrella, simply because Usno is not a registered body yet.

They would accept if Usno comes in just as an observer and not as a decision-maker.

Jeffrey, who has personal experiences getting embroiled in many political-legal tussles in the past – in at least two political parties before – however, believes that Usno, being a member of UBA, would help strengthen the alliance.

Jeffrey’s clarion call

Jeffrey has been spearheading a common platform for Sabah political parties that subscribed to his “Borneo Agenda” .

The phrase “Borneo Agenda” denotes fighting for greater autonomy for Sabah and Sarawak, and restoring the two states’ eminent position in the Federation of Malaysia, something the older people in the states believed they had during the reign of Tunku Abdul Rahman in the early years of Malaysia in 1960s and for a part of the tenure of his successor Razak Hussein up to 1976.

Then, leaders of the two states seemed to be always around the prime minister, and were consulted on most things, especially on issues directly affecting the two states, which has a combined area much bigger than the whole of the Peninsula, which has 11 states.

Observers here in Sabah and Sarawak claim that Jeffrey wants the same clout the two states had over the prime minister to be restored.

People in Sabah and Sarawak are grumbling that unlike in the past when the Tunku always appeared with their leaders at both domestic and foreign functions, these positions have been usurped by Chinese (MCA) and Indian (MIC) leaders instead.

Sabahans and Sarawakians believe the federal government has forgotten the pivotal role Sabah and Sarawak played in 1963 when Malaysia was formed, and again in 1965 when Singapore left or was ejected from a young Malaysia then.

Returning to Jeffrey and his UBA, political analysts here see him as gaining strength in as many as 20 of the 60 state constituencies and in at least eight parliamentary constituencies in Sabah.

STAR is seen to be growing fast, they say, pointing to claims that barely two months after it was launched it has already managed to get over 120,000 members.

Hordes of divisional and village-level community leaders, especially in the Kadazandusun areas, are flocking to join Jeffrey in STAR. To the surprise of many, even school teachers have joined him and are campaigning openly for STAR.

There is even talk from the Special Branch that Bukit Aman has refused to believe the growing support for STAR since its launch on Jan 6.

STAR a threat to BN

So much was the reservation and scepticism about STAR that Bukit Aman is said to have dispatched its own officers to observe recent STAR functions including the launch of its Keningau division, which was said to have been attended by over 2,000 people.

While STAR may pose a serious threat to BN seats in as many as 20 state constituencies and perhaps “well over 10″ of the 25 parliamentary seats, SAPP is said to be struggling with lukewarm support for the party.

Closer observation revealed that functions hosted by STAR in the rural areas drew more people than those organised by SAPP.

The crowd at STAR events would number from 150 to 3,000 whereas SAPP ceramahs would be able to pull in 30 to 100 people.

But together under UBA, both parties could be a formidable force to face the well-oiled ruling BN.

A go-it-alone SAPP in the coming general election after Yong was humiliated in the Batu Sapi parliamentary by-election in October 2010 is not much of an option.

Yong finished last in Batu Sapi, garnering 2,030 votes, trailing far behind even PKR’s Ansari Abdullah, who finished second and garnered a respectable 3,414 votes. Batu Sapi was won by the BN-PBS candidate, Linda Tsen, who obtained 9,773 votes or 64% of the total votes cast.

Analysts believe that SAPP, alone, would not be able to retain its incumbent MP seats (Sepanggar and Tawau) and two state seats (Luyang and Likas), let alone win in a few more areas.

They believe SAPP could retain and possibly win a few more seats under two scenarios – one if SAPP teams up with Pakatan Rakyat and the other with STAR under the UBA banner.

A third scenario is if SAPP joins forces with its former ally in BN, Upko, if the latter ditches BN.

SAPP cannot survive alone

This option is, however, fast diminishing with Upko being pampered by the BN government with oil and gas projects worth billions of ringgit.

“Yong knows his cards. He has to decide which alliance SAPP should join. If SAPP chooses Pakatan, then SAPP has to eat humble pie and stand in a token number of seats,” an analyst said.

“If Yong joins Jeffrey in UBA, it would not be very easy either. As of now, STAR already has its own potential candidates in ‘winnable’ Kadazandusun areas. But Yong too has been quietly planning to put up candidates in these same places and hoping for some surprise wins.

“But with STAR around, that could be just day-dreaming,” the analyst said.

For the record, in Sabah, there are only three parliamentary seats that have a majority of Chinese voters – Kota Kinabalu, Sandakan and Tawau.

But, Tawau was won by SAPP under the BN symbol in 2008 because of Umno’s support.

“Now even primary school pupils know that the majority of Chinese voters will vote for a DAP candidate.

“So, what are SAPP’s chances? Virtually nil unless it works with Pakatan,” another observer said.


Yong knows this reality. When Lim Kit Siang or Tian Chua of PKR comes to town, the Chinese community would rather listen to them than Yong, as was evident in Batu Sapi.

Political pundits are putting their bets on Yong teaming up with either of the groupings.

“They said if Yong decides to go it alone and really contest in 40 of the 60 state constituencies and a third of the MP seats, he would be doomed.

“There is no way SAPP will win if it goes up against the DAP in Chinese areas or against STAR in Kadazandusun areas.

“SAPP is not known to win in Muslim areas unless it has support from Umno or any other formidable new group coming up,” an opposition activist said.

Jeffrey’s circles, however, are wary of a split of the opposition votes.

“We realise, too, that if SAPP is not with us and is in the fray where we have STAR candidates, our chances of winning are slimmer because in an election, even a few hundred votes are crucial.

“Ideally, it should be a straight fight, but having said that, STAR is confident even if a Pakatan candidate is contesting,” said an insider.

For now, political watchers in the state are waiting to see which direction SAPP will move.


  1. SAPP has no more way to go... now going with STAR...hehe after PKR told YTL Pakatan would only concee the most 8 DUN seats to it ..

  2. You,politicians from Malaya,look at yourselves clearly & deeply,know yourselves,o ye leaders of PKR & DAP;what is your true AGENDA?Do you really want to topple the Barisan National parties or you just want to show your arrogance/pride,that you are better than any of the Sabahans,behaving just like the other Malayan UMNO/BN leaders & the indoctrinated Sabahan BN politicians taking us as third (3rd) class persons that they can empower & enrich themselves according to their whims & fancies! If you are way above the pride/arrogance,the mentality of UMNO/BN politicians, then please concentrate your energy to topple UMNO/BN parties in Malaya.If you persist to interfere in the politics in Sabah,particularly in the coming 13th general election,then you are no better than the most hated man in Malaysia.Please reconsider your conscience in depth.And you Sabahans DAP elected wakil rakyats & others',OPEN YOUR EYES,drop your personal pride & arrogance & join & unite with the local opposition parties to face & fight the common enemies now & in the coming general election.SHOW YOUR INTEGRITY & SINCERITY!!!!!!!!


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