On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Wooing the Wild Wild East

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is an old hand in Sabah, having built his connections during his Umno days. The politics and money, to put it bluntly, worked so well that the then Sabah Umno chief, the late Tun Ghafar Baba, got unseated without even realising it.

But even the PKR leader is finding it hard dealing with the local-based opposition parties to ensure a straight fight against the ruling Barisan Nasional.

If the egos of politicians are often big, those in Sabah could well be in the super-sized category, as talks came to a halt recently.

All indications are that the coming general election will see multi-cornered fights in most of the 60 state seats in Sabah.

In 2008, only 15 seats saw straight fights with 21 (three-cornered), 15 (four-cornered), five (five-cornered), one (six-cornered) and one (eight-cornered). Two seats were won uncontested.

At the parliamentary level, there were seven seats with straight fights, nine (three-cornered), six (four-cornered), one (five-cornered) while two were won uncontested.

Interestingly enough, 21 candidates contesting parliamentary seats and 68 contesting state seats lost their deposits, adding more than half a million ringgit into the state coffers.

Current negotiations between local-based Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) headed by former Chief Minister Datuk Yong Teck Lee and Sabah STAR led by Datuk Jeffrey Kitingan with Pakatan Rakyat are bogged down.

There are plenty of suspicions between them. For example, Yong was convinced by Anwar after the 2008 polls that the elected Barisan federal government would collapse as Sabah and Sarawak MPs were defecting.

The Sept 16 coup, of course, did not happen after SAPP pulled out from the Barisan. There were enough journalists who told Yong that the Sept 16 coup would not take place.

His SAPP also has a running feud with the local DAP leaders, their verbal fights being widely reported in the local press.

Dr Jeffrey, brother of PBS chief Tan Sri Joseph Pairin Kitingan, has confirmed that a free-for-all was on the cards. His party has called for the national Opposition to stay out of Sabah.

Not credible

The problem is, most Sabahans have lost track of the number of political parties that he has joined. In short, he has a credibility problem.

In 2003, he applied to join Umno but was rejected! He then joined PKR where he was made a vice-president and held the post until 2009 when he quit.

In the 2008 elections, he contested against his brother in the Keningau parliamentary seat, and lost.

In fact, at the height of the Sept 16 euphoria, Dr Jeffrey had announced that 16 Sabah Barisan MPs would cross over to Pakatan.

Since then, he has launched many attacks including calling on Anwar to “tell the truth” over his role as an Umno leader in the controversial “Project IC” where many foreigners were given citizenship in exchange for purported support for Barisan.

I hope young voters who are unfamiliar with the “Wild Wild West, shoot-from-the-hip-style” of politics are able to follow the events I have written about.

The multi-cornered fights are certain to benefit the Barisan and the challenge this time is whether Pakatan would be able to make a dent in Sabah and Sarawak.

The key to winning Putrajaya is to secure the two states, without which any talk of marching to Putrajaya would just be wishful thinking.

The seats in these two states are huge, sometimes bigger than the size of some states on the peninsula, and some are isolated, which makes logistics a nightmare.

Ceramah, which peninsula voters are used to, are virtually useless and ineffective in these rural constituencies.