On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

End the political uncertainties

THE Winner Hotel, located in the heart of Kota Kinabalu, is one of the earliest landmarks in the state capital. What was once a prominent spot has now been overtaken by other hotels.

The budget hotel, with just over 30 rooms, was built by the father of Datuk Yong Teck Lee, the president of the Sabah Progressive Party, who is now embroiled in a political storm.

His father, a timber tycoon, had sent Yong to the prestigious London School of Economics, to study law.

The moustachioed and side-burned politician rarely goes to the hotel these days except to sample its famous steamed pork with salted fish, a popular Hakka dish, at the coffee house – and for very private meetings.

In Sabah’s political circle, the joke is that Yong is the “YTL of Sabah”, in reference to Tan Sri Yeoh Tiong Lai, the founder of one of the biggest Malaysian conglomerates.

There is no question that Yong is SAPP and SAPP is Yong. He has a solid grip on the party and his deputy Datuk Raymond Tan poses little threat, if at all, to Yong, who has rebelled against the Prime Minister with a challenge to table a no-confidence motion against him.

With the SAPP supreme council endorsing the motion, Yong is now waiting for the sack by the Barisan Nasional leadership. He has moved on to his roadshow to garner support.

Tan, who failed to swing the SAPP leaders to his side on Friday, with his supporters, has now said he would remain with the coalition.

But it remains to be seen whether Yong will emerge a winner in the whole scheme of things. For now, there is little to lose in taking this political gamble as Yong holds no federal position. With only two MPs in Parliament, his party commands little respect.

Tired of being regarded as a mosquito party, Yong has decided to flex his muscle and now wants to be taken seriously, particularly with the wooing of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. Indeed, he is now front-page news.

The two have had a strange relationship, proving that there are no permanent friends or enemies in politics. When Yong was Chief Minister for two years from 1996, he openly clashed with Anwar, then Deputy Prime Minister, over the state’s defiance to allow Olympic Bhd to re-establish a gaming licence.

Tired of his authority being challenged, Anwar made public allegations of corruption in the state but Yong, barely 40 years old then, remained unshaken.

Fast forward to 2008. Yong and Anwar have met to discuss the political possibilities ahead of Sept 16, the date set by Anwar to topple the Barisan federal government.

The media-savvy Yong realises that he needs to move now. In his own words, this is the window period that will be closed after August.

By then, he said, “the public attention would be on the Olympics” and that the national press would have suffered “fatigue” over Sabah issues, unless there is action to be seen.

Coverage would centre on the Umno and MCA division elections while by September, politics would come to a standstill when the fasting month begins. The school exams would start with plans made for holidays by the year-end.

Yong, like Anwar, realises that he needs to create the momentum and stay in the news. Anwar also needs to convince that his Sept 16 promise is real and not just hype, as many seem to think now.

The SAPP looks set to be sacked while a huge demonstration against the fuel price hike that will take place on July 5 seems to fit in the grand plan.

At the same time, Umno leaders seem too preoccupied with their party elections which, to Pakatan Rakyat, would be the perfect timing for a political onslaught. And adding to that would be an electorate angry with a higher cost of living.

It’s an explosive political situation ahead. While all politicians have their own agenda and ambitions to fulfil, they must never lose sight of the national interest as the stock exchange continues to take a beating. The uncertainties are bad for business with nervous investors holding back their money. It needs to end, at some point, so we can all move on.