KENINGAU, Sept 25 — Two local parties who were previously bent on duking it out for the Tambunan and Bingkor seats, have shifted their campaign direction from attacking each other to selling the idea of a Perikatan Nasional (PN) led Sabah to voters following a truce.
Campaign speeches in the two seats as observed by Malay Mail showed how speakers had instead shifted their barrels towards one common enemy, the Warisan Plus coalition.
Topics that pressed on the unity forged between Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) Parti Solidariti Tanah Airku (STAR) following the truce penned on Tuesday, were the main subjects at these rallies, instead of animosity towards each other.
Speakers also gushed about the idea of being under PN and aligned to the federal government, saying it would reap more benefits compared to an administration that opposes the central leadership.
Around Tambunan, a small township which happens to be the birthplace of PBS, posters, placards and banners of its candidate Silverius Bruno and even party flags were seen being removed just hours after the party agreed to give way to STAR.
As quickly as the PBS materials were removed, new campaign posters and banners of STAR’s candidates were instead erected around the town, strategically placed around existing PN banners.
The rare sight of campaign material removed prior to polling was part of a compromise made between PBS and STAR, parties led by brothers Joseph Pairin and Jeffery Gapari Kitingan, in two of the six overlapping seats both parties fielded candidates in.
The clashes resulting from Nomination Day caused disputes between the two parties, who were before the agreement set to spar each other despite being allies under PN.
But as far as the folks of Tambunan are concerned, the initial clashes and resulting truce made little significance with most of them having already made up their minds over who to vote for.
Despite being aware of the history Tambunan shares with PBS, voters here expressed more progressive views and swayed more towards backing Jefferey and STAR stemming from the idea of being under PN’s leadership.
Victor Geoffrey, 46, said it was good that the truce was called mainly to put an end to the fighting, but admitted it would not have made a difference to him.
“Its good they have come to an agreement, they can now focus on unity and working together as local parties for Sabahans,” he said.
But if made to choose between the two, Geoffrey said his choice would be STAR.
He also agreed that PBS, who through Joseph Pairin held the seat for 30-years up to 2018, were in control of Tambunan for a long time saying that it would not hurt to elect a new party.
“The people here don’t see it as a PBS area or a STAR area.
“We look at the party which offers the best, and at this stage I have much faith in the plans of STAR,” the businessman told Malay Mail.
Local farmer Joseph Juakim, 56, said party lines were not significant to him, rather he opts to scrutinise the candidate’s abilities before making a decision.
“I will support who brings in development, such a foreign investments to spur job opportunities for the youth here,” he said.
When asked, Juakim revealed most of his friends were supporters of Jeffery and STAR, predicting that up to two-thirds of Tambunan shared similar sentiments.
“He has a good chance, I would say 75 per cent, meaning the majority of the people here,” he said, referring to Jeffery.
Even younger voters seem to be for STAR and Jeffery, but admitted they as regular laymen remained unaffected by the politics.
One voter who only wished to be identified as Jonti, 37, said he sways towards backing STAR, but points out how issues concerning job opportunities and development in the town were of greater importance to him.
Another voter, Jenitah Kasseh, 31, said she had decided to support PN since the beginning on the back of them being in Putrajaya.
“It doesn’t really affect me, it’s better if both parties can work together.
“We don’t need political disputes in Tambunan, what we need is better town maintenance, a marketplace, and more development,” she lamented.
How is PBS taking it?
Even with its rich history associated with the Tambunan seat PBS seem to be committed to honour their truce.
However, Tambunan PBS Election Director Rocky Jerome Budin stressed the party did not withdraw their candidate from the seat but instead stopped campaigning.
He explained that their relationship was confined to what he called a political cooperation between STAR and PBS.
“The name of the candidate is still in the ballot paper and if voters pick him it will still be counted and won’t be listed as a spoilt vote.
“But that is why our president has instructed that the candidate stop campaigning and stop using whatever party material,” he told Malay Mail at the division’s headquarters.
“To say he withdrew himself is not accurate.
“It is a cooperation, where when we forge a cooperation, we give way, not withdraw,” added.
But Budin also lamented on the ripple effects among the grassroots as a result of the party entering into such a truce.
Having disillusioned members would also affect their support among the electorate, as Budin explained these grassroots leaders carry significant influence over their peers.
As an example Budin pointed towards a report that claimed 10 district PBS polling centres from Tambunan withdrew their support from the party following the truce.
He dismissed the report saying the supposed defection was the work on one disgruntled leader who misrepresented leaders from other divisions and has since been referred to their disciplinary board.
Even reports claiming the defections could cause ripples and possibly dent their support among voters, Budin said.
“They have great influence over their peers, so such news of them defecting, which is not true in the first place, can really affect the sentiments of those in the villages here,” he explained, referring to grassroots leaders.
Jeffery is a favourite to secure the Tambunan seat, a state constituency under the Keningau’s Parliamentary lines, where the STAR president is the MP.
The seat sees a six-cornered fight featuring Jeffrey, and PBS’ Bruno who’s name will appear in the ballot, along with Damian @ Richard Marcus Podtung from Parti Cinta Sabah (PCS), Datuk Dr Nayan Yambu @ Laurentius from United Progressive Kinabalu Organisation (Upko), Nordin Jaini @ Zaini from Parti Gagasan Rakyat Sabah (Gagasan), and independent candidate, singer Jimmy Palikat.
Polling for the Sabah state election takes place tomorrow in 73 state constituencies with around 1.1 million eligible voters.
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