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In Sabah poll, frenzied race for Kadazandusun vote could give community chance to call the shots

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Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin delivering a speech in a gathering before the nomination process for the Sabah state election at Tuaran Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) office, September 12, 2020. Also present is Perikatan Nasional candidate for the Sulaman state seat Datuk Seri Hajiji Mohd Noor (left). — Bernama pic
Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin delivering a speech in a gathering before the nomination process for the Sabah state election at Tuaran Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) office, September 12, 2020. Also present is Perikatan Nasional candidate for the Sulaman state seat Datuk Seri Hajiji Mohd Noor (left). — Bernama pic

KOTA KINABALU, Sept 13 — When the dust settled at noon on nomination day for Sabah’s 16th election, the stage was set for an exciting race with an unprecedented number of candidates and blurred lines between allies and enemies.

As predicted, multi-cornered fights were the theme for this election and with no fewer than three seats each featuring up to 11 contestants, no candidate will escape having their support cannibalised.

The most susceptible to this were the Kadazandusun seats in Sabah’s interior. The non-Muslim natives of the state, they are called KDM — short for Kadazan, Dusun and Murut — and face a dizzying choice in this election from among all those chasing their support

The contest for the KDM vote will be fiercest, ironically, among parties that profess to be allies under the umbrella of Gabungan Rakyat Sabah.

The coalition that Perikatan Nasional chairman Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin named yesterday morning barely lasted until noon before aligned parties clashed head-on over seats and ended up challenging each other in 17 constituencies at the final count.

Even as a dispute over 11 seats remained unresolved, Parti Bersatu Sabah surprised its allies by contesting seven more seats than previously announced, worsening the overlap that brought it into confrontation with the aligned Star after already clashing with Barisan Nasional.

The informal GRS coalition encompasses PN, BN, and local Sabah Opposition parties.

Seats like Tulid and Paginatan will see three GRS allies fighting themselves as well as rivals. Bengkoka, Matunggong, Tandek, Kadamaian, Tanjung Aru, Moyog, Paginatan, Tambunan, Bingkor, Liawan, Malalap, Sook. Telupid, and Karamunting will feature at least two GRS parties clashing.

For one PBS leader, however, it was only right that the party contest these seats.

“They should be with a local party, not with a Malaya flag,” the person said after requesting anonymity.

“We had tried our best to negotiate but there was no give at all. BN, Star refused so this was our last resort,” the PBS leader added.

After the party acknowledged yesterday that it was causing a “friendly contest” among its supposed allies, the PBS leader said the development could ultimately be positive for the KDM community as it would give them a chance to unite and become a major political force in the state.

He predicted that this was likely to occur as upheavals since the 2018 general election has shown what was possible through the ballot.

“PBS is standing on its own flag again after 16 years. The sentiment now is with us, as a local party and we have shown that we have stayed the course and are consistent in our struggle,” he said.

PBS is the oldest Sabah-based party contesting and is going all-out to prove its relevance in Sabah, not just with the older generation but also the youth who were unhappy with the party-hopping antics for which state politicians have become known.

In the fight for KDM votes, PBS remains at the forefront but its sway with the community has been on the wane.

Its direct competitors in this election are Star of Datuk Dr Jeffrey Kitingan who won two seats on a split vote in the last election, Upko that is with the ruling Warisan Plus coalition, and Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah that has so far not expanded beyond Nabawan and Sook.

Aside from Star, the other parties had been components of BN that abandoned the coalition after it crashed to spectacular defeat in 2018 and lost control of federal power for the first time in Malaysia’s history.

For Upko, this election will be especially vital as it will have to prove that it has what it takes to effectively represent KDM interests and stand on its own right.

The premature Sabah election was called after the incumbent chief minister, Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal, dissolved the assembly to thwart predecessor Tan Sri Musa Aman’s bid to take over the government by way of defections.

Musa was dropped by BN and appeared to have taken this meekly, but observers told Malay Mail previously that neither the coalition nor his rivals should take it for granted that he will not get involved.

The Election Commission has set polling for the Sabah state election on September 26.

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