KOTA KINABALU, Sept 17 — Parti Warisan Sabah president Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal drew much fanfare from residents during his whirlwind visit to three locales in his campaign tour of Kota Belud, some 70km northeast of the state capital here.
Cheers for the Semporna-born caretaker chief minister resounded in the air to the beat of traditional music as Shafie walked about Kampung Tamau within the Pintasan state lines, half his face hidden behind a blue mask greeting similarly masked residents with fist bumps under a grey sky yesterday.
The turnout to the community halls and makeshift tents erected for the election campaign in this small town, as well as in Tempasuk and Usukan, were in the vicinity of 150 to 250, seemingly small but significant for an election taking place during the Covid-19 pandemic when reminders to physically distance are issued several times a day.
Even then, attendees would excitedly surge forward towards Shafie for selfies while his security detail maintained a watchful eye nearby.
In the three towns on this side of the west coast of Sabah, voters listened raptly to Shafie’s half-hour-long speeches, laughing unhesitatingly to his every joke and dig at political rivals from Barisan Nasional (BN), the new Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition, and others not part of the Warisan Plus alliance.
“I know the voters here in Kota Belud have integrity and won’t auction their future and that of their children for a mere RM200 or RM300 by those in blue,” Shafie said in a veiled remark towards BN, which had controlled the north Borneo state for many years until the landmark Election 2018 that catapulted him into the chief minister’s seat and kept him there for 26 months.
Residents applauded every time he made a Sabah-related point. Shafie seemed to find resonance with the attendees when he spoke against his predecessor Tan Sri Musa Aman and when he vowed to press Putrajaya for higher oil royalties to be paid to Sabah.
Shafie also sought to appeal to the local sentiment to keep Sabah for Sabahans; telling them that his Sabah-based party may be allied with other parties like the DAP, PKR and Amanah which hail from the peninsula, there was no doubt on who their next chief minister would be if Warisan Plus won the election.
“They are working together with us, not working for us.
“It has also been decided that when we win, the chief minister will be the president of Warisan, and we will follow through on our promise to make sure that Sabah is ruled by Sabahans,” he said to resounding cheers of approvals.
Since campaigning officially started on September 12, Shafie has been the target of the Opposition BN, PN and their allies over his 26-month economic performance as chief minister.
The Opposition has also repeatedly disparaged Shafie’s roots, with some even calling him the son of naturalised illegal immigrants.
In his speeches yesterday, Shafie chose to tackle this shadow head-on with deprecating humour, denouncing the illegal immigrant narrative and telling the west coast Sabahans that he was born and raised in the east-coast town of Semporna.
“When I was in Umno, they labeled me a warrior, a fighter, a leader of Sabah, but right after I was fired from Umno, they called me a PTI,” he said, using the Malay abbreviation for pendatang tanpa izin meaning undocumented migrants.
He said such narratives were the Opposition’s attempt to divide Sabahans and distract attention from what happened to the state under the BN’s 20-year rule.
“They sold all the timber in Sabah, cut down all the trees to the point that even the elephants had nowhere else to go and some even died.
“I am telling you, if the elephants could vote, I am sure the elephants would also vote for Warisan,” he said triggering laughter and applause from those attending.
From the positive responses of Kota Belud residents to Shafie on this tour, Warisan Plus appears to be leading the crowded race for the 73 state seats.
A resident here said she would most likely vote for the Warisan candidate in her area to give the party a chance to continue its disrupted rule of Sabah.
Mastija Sapilin, 34, claimed nothing much had improved in her village when BN was government.
“Even the last one before Warisan never really did anything significant for the village; the roads are still bad and it still floods frequently here.
“Warisan seems to be a fair government and we really couldn’t see their progress this year as the federal government implemented the movement control order,” the kindergarten assistant told Malay Mail.
Over in Tempasuk, one voter said she felt more secure voting for Shafie and Warisan after reading about the Opposition and independent candidates hopping from one party to another.
Agatha Raimin, 40, admitted that some problems in Tempasuk concerning roads and water supply have yet to be solved by the state under Shafie’s leadership, but said the stability shown by Warisan and its allies gave her confidence to vote for the party next week.
“The time they were in power was too short to make any real assessments, but during that time there were efforts to improve the conditions here, so I am eager to see how they can finish what they planned and started,” she said pointing to the pothole-laden roads in Tempasuk.
Several other voters declared their outright commitment to vote for Warisan and their allies, saying there was no other choice as they were out to avoid handing the state over to peninsula based parties.
“They cannot even decide on who will be the chief minister, one minute one leader mentioned Datuk Seri Hajiji Mohd Noor, and then it was Datuk Seri Bung Moktar Radin,” said Asmad Siah, 43.
“For us as Sabahans, Warisan is our decision.”
In the Usukan electorate, 50-year-old electrician Datu Duhar said he was now torn between Warisan Plus and BN.
He expressed support for former chief minister Datuk Seri Salleh Said Keruak, who is seeking to make a comeback with Umno, relating the latter’s interactive and engaging personality.
However, Datu also said Warisan’s origin as a Sabah party and the sense of stability it gave him during the brief 26 months it was in power were points to consider.
“He was good, he came down to the ground and spoke to the people,” Datu said of Salleh.
“But Warisan is a Sabahan party with a Sabahan leader, so I am still thinking very hard about who will get my vote.
“Maybe Warisan, maybe Salleh, I am not sure yet,” he said.
When pressed further on what other factors he would consider before voting, Datu, like other voters, mentioned the need to improve on the basic essentials for the people while developing the state’s economy to spur job opportunities.
For restaurant owner Rosidah Pakatan, 46, having either the incumbent or Opposition take over as the state government made little difference to her, saying they never come through with their promises anyway.
“The last assemblyman here was from Warisan, but there was nothing much done, but it is no different from when BN was in power,” she said.
Rosidah said the only notable contribution she benefited from recently were the Prihatin handouts given by the federal government to bolster the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Some 1.1 million Sabahans are set to vote in the September 26 polls, with early voting slated for September 22.