On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Seat is getting hotter by the day for Yong

Speculation has been rife since last year that snap elections will be called. Never mind the fact that the Barisan Nasional Government's full term only ends in mid-1999.

These political speculators also seem to ignore the fact that the economic slowdown needs the attention of the national leadership more than anything else. An expensive state election is hardly its priority.

Yong, who took over as Chief Minister in 1996, vowed to change the political culture of the state after he was sworn in.

He then described the state as "the wild, wild east of Malaysian politics."

Almost two years later, little has changed. The state's political landscape has continued to be turbulent.

In a state where political allegiance means nothing, there were several defections among assemblymen to the opposition PBS last year.

Recently, Yong found himself under fire when fellow Barisan Nasional leaders from Umno and Gerakan questioned him over the state's purchase of North Borneo Timbers (NBT) shares.

Warisan Harta, of which Yong is chairman, had allegedly paid RM31.50 per share on Dec 23 in a transaction for three million shares.

Predictably, Yong has reacted bitterly to these attacks, first brought up by the PBS. "They have already convicted me," he said.

This came shortly after his deputy, Datuk Abdul Ghapur Salleh, tendered his resignation on Dec 13.

Although Ghapur did not reveal his reasons for quitting as the state Umno deputy chairman, it was widely speculated that he was in disagreement with certain state Umno leaders.

Ghapur has since withdrawn his resignation after a meeting with Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Politicking is expected to intensify when the Umno division elections are held between March 12 and 29. Sparks are expected to fly in some Sabah divisions where the contest is likely to be keen.

The state politics has always been emotional; with its rich resources and vastness, the stakes are high.

Sabah sends 200 delegates to the Umno general assembly — the largest chunk of votes at the national-level party polls.

It remains to be seen what other issues would crop up during the division meetings, particularly among certain groups which continue to have reservations over the rotation system.

After Yong, the Kadazans will have their representative as chief minister.

The two Kadazan-based parties are the Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah headed by Datuk Joseph Kurup and the Parti Demokratik Sabah led by Tan Sri Bernard Dompok.

Kurup has two assemblymen while Dompok has 13 state representatives. Kurup is tipped to be Yong's replacement as he is also a Deputy Chief Minister.

He was among the earliest Kadazan leaders to quit PBS to form a party under the Barisan after the 1994 state elections, where the PBS first won 25 seats and Barisan 23.

His detractors have, however, questioned the logic of Kurup as a chief minister, saying he could not possibly run the state as he lacks political clout.

But the state Barisan has completed three election dry-runs, indicating that it is gearing itself for elections.

Yong has continuously maintained that such trials are necessary because the state has the largest number of Barisan component parties and needs proper co-ordination.

Should snap elections be held, it will be the first time the state Barisan, comprising nine component parties, is putting itself to the test.

Before it does that, Barisan component leaders in Sabah must fully understand the concept of power-sharing.

No single party, on its own, is able to command the votes of Sabahans of various ethnic and religious backgrounds. The Chief Minister represents all Sabahans and not any single race.

Much more than that, Sabah politicians must realise that election promises must be kept if they wish to face the voters with dignity in the next round.

The political fickleness of Sabah politicians is already well-known but it is time they grow up because the electorate is more educated and knowledgable.

They should stop taking the electorate for granted.