SABAH POLLS | While Shafie Apdal's image dominates Warisan's election campaign, his deputy Darell Ignatius Leiking is the face of the party's campaign among Kadazan Dusun and Murut (KDM) community.
Like most Warisan candidates, many of Leiking's social media videos portray him posing with the "W" hand gesture and using phrases promoting "unity", underscoring the deeper message on Sabah's unique diversity.
Shafie is a Bajau-Muslim while Leiking is a Kadazan-Christian. Although Sabahans often pride themselves in celebrating diversity in everyday life, the state's politics still took on an ethnic and religious dimension as the rest of Malaysia.
In 2018, Warisan - an overtly multi-ethnic party - won only four out of 10 KDM seats. It was bogged down by a perception held by the KDM community that it was a party made up of Sulok-Bajau-Filipino people and hence had foreign ancestry.
The poor reception among the KDM community for Warisan was reinforced during the Kimanis by-election in January, which Warisan lost decisively in KDM voting districts.
This time around, out of the 22 KDM-majority seats, Warisan is fielding candidates for 11, while the rest is shared with allies United Progressive Kinabalu Organisation (Upko) with seven seats, PKR (three) and DAP (one).
Leading the charge in the KDM heartlands for Warisan is Leiking, 49, a lawyer-turned-politician. He is already the Penampang MP and has been tasked with defending the party's Moyog seat.
During the campaign trail, Leiking has been calling for unity and for politicians and Sabahans alike from perpetuating the East-West divide of Sabah.
"When (critics) look at Shafie, they automatically brand him as an undocumented migrant and they do not understand the lives of those on the East coast because they live on the West coast.
"Just like our counterpart from the peninsula or Malaya, they lack knowledge of Sabah. Our biggest problem is that we do not know each other but we think we know enough," he said.
Incumbent Kapayang assemblyperson and DAP politician Jannie Lasimbang, who, like Leiking, is a Kadazan, told Malaysiakini that the prejudice against East coast residents was significant in the KDM heartlands and she blamed Parti Solidariti Tanah Airku (Star) for fanning the communal flames.
For Lasimbang, voters should ignore such sentiments and instead decide on who was the cleaner and better government.
"Those who go through the backdoor is not the government we want. We want a clean government," said Lasimbang, who is also a lawmaker for a KDM-majority area.
Apart from East-West communal sentiments, Leiking also has to navigate through the KDM community's penchant for clan-based politics.
In the KDM heartlands, politics is dominated by political families and it is common for family members to face each other in elections.
Leiking himself is a chip off the old block. He is the son of former Inanam assemblyperson and former local Umno leader Marcel Leiking.
Much like other KDM constituencies, candidates from larger families or enjoyed the support of their clan, often have an advantage.
Leiking, then a political novice, beat dethroned Upko president Bernard Dompok in 2013 to win the Penampang seat, a feat then attributed to his family name.
While Leiking has built a name for himself over the past seven years, three of his challengers are kin - Joseph Sulaiman (Star), William Sampil (Parti Cinta Sabah) and John Cryso (Parti Bersatu Sabah).
When met in Penampang, a member of the Lasimbang clan told Malaysiakini that there are some in the family who believed that Leiking should focus on his duties as an MP and allow others to be the Moyog assemblyperson.
"The KDM voters want to see their lawmakers in person and often appear at the constituency but this did not happen," he said.
After retaining the Penampang seat in 2018, Leiking spent much of his time in Putrajaya because he was the international trade and industry minister.
"So, this time, some of us want another. It's enough," said the Lasimbang clansperson who declined to be named.
Endorsement from prominent family
William, who is Leiking's uncle, told Malaysiakini that some within the Leiking clan had already endorsed him.
"Voters in Penampang are different. Once they make a decision, they will throw you out even if you are a sitting federal minister. They would say you have stayed too long," he said, in reference to the defeat suffered by Dompok in 2013.
Leiking currently has the overt support of all three active Lasimbang politicians including incumbent Moyog assemblyperson Jeniffer Lasimbang, who filled Leiking's nomination form.
Apart from sisters Jannie and Jeniffer, the Lasimbang clan includes senator Adrian Lasimbang and former Moyog assemblyperson Philip Benedict Lasimbang, an Upko politician until he passed on in 2018.
Leiking himself has downplayed the effects of clan politics and does not want to be portrayed as a KDM leader.
"I am seen as a Sabahan leader. The people who want to divide us by race are the very people who cause Sabah to regress, whereas we want to bring Sabah forward," added Leiking.
Papar Dam problem
A straw poll of voters in Penampang revealed that while there are praises for Leiking, there are also brickbats over unresolved infrastructure woes, flooding, the lack of a hospital and the unpopular Papar Dam project.
The Papar Dam project has been deemed necessary by Shafie's state government to ensure drinking water for the urban areas.
However, there are concerns that 13 villages in Penampang will have to make way for the project and Leiking has been unable to voice his objections.
Despite the complaints, some voters such as Boitol Loguet, who claimed to be a Lasimbang clan member, said he hopes to see Leiking make it to the state legislative assembly.
"Who knows if he will be a chief minister one day? If he contested in a state seat a few years back, he would probably have ended up as the deputy chief minister," said the 81-year-old sundry shop owner at Buit Hill.
Follow Malaysiakini's coverage of the Sabah state election here.