KOTA KINABALU, Sept 19 — Despite entering into an agreement to formalise its partnership with Perikatan Nasional (PN), Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) is intent on reaffirming its own identity and solidifying its reputation in local politics through next week’s polls.
From its decision to field 22 candidates, instead of the 15 that was supposedly agreed upon with allies Parti Solidariti Tanah Airku (Star), PBS again insisted on doing things its own way when it ensured that its candidates will be represented by its party emblem on ballot papers, as opposed to the PN logo.
The party’s information chief Datuk Joniston Bangkuai explained that PBS’ confidence that it can win all seats contested stems from the positive feedback it has received from the ground.
Bangkuai, the Kiulu incumbent who is gunning for a third straight term there, said an example of the positive feedback he was talking about could be observed right here in his constituency.
“What I have seen, even village chiefs and chairmen of the village development and security committees are brave enough to attend my speeches. To me, it is an indication they want change.
“As grassroots leaders, they hold much influence over the people under their jurisdiction, and I see it as something very positive that they dare to come out and join me,” he said after campaigning in Kampung Nawoi in Kiulu, Tamparuli.
In the grand scheme of things, Bangkuai said PBS is aiming to emerge as the dominant party in next weekend’s polls and is confident about securing all seats contested.
“We can probably be a dominant partner if we win all our seats. There is always that possibility,” he told Malay Mail.
The situation PBS finds itself in is complex. It is formally in a partnership with PN, but Bangkuai insisted it is not under the coalition’s umbrella and instead stands as an equal partner.
On the federal level, PN is friendly with Barisan Nasional (BN) and together with PAS and Gabungan Parti Sarawak form the federal government.
However, PN and BN are not official political partners and instead mutually support each other to form and run the federal government.
But Bangkuai said PN’s relationship with BN does not carry the same weight or influence once the Sabah context is applied.
“We are on our own, where we have decided as PBS that we are equal partners, and have aligned ourselves with PN.
“We are not a member of BN and we are not aligned. At the federal level, BN is part of the federal government, yes, but here we are choosing a state government.
“If we win all our seats, we will form the government with Perikatan Nasional candidates, that includes Star, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) and Parti Progresif Sabah (SAPP) first,” he explained.
Bangkuai confirmed that, in an ideal situation, PBS and PN will end up being the majority in the state government, and they would be open to BN becoming a coalition member as a third addition.
When asked to explain if the level of camaraderie between PN and PBS differed from that between his party and BN, Bangkuai gave a cryptic response.
“I think, for that, you can read between the lines,” he said.
Recent developments that saw Umno’s former chief minister Tan Sri Musa Aman stump for PBS, in particular Bangkuai himself, sent the rumour mill churning once more as to the ever-changing dynamics that the party finds itself in.
When asked if PBS feared getting caught in the crosshairs of the ongoing tensions between BN and PN stemming from Musa’s surprising appearance, Bangkuai again dismissed the suggestion, saying the party stood on its own two feet.
“We are equal partners, which means we don’t have to be caught in anybody’s crosshairs, because we are on our own,” he reiterated.
When pressed further, Bangkuai said the gesture by Musa to stump for the Kiulu incumbent was merely a sign of his confidence in the PBS man.
“In his own words, he said that I was very vocal and working very hard for the people, so that's why he would like to see me continue,” Bangkuai explained when asked what Musa’s support could mean.
Campaign season is heating up for the Sabah polls, with inter-party tensions set to reach their breaking point before next Saturday’s vote.
Musa, despite not contesting any seat in these polls, blindsided many political players by campaigning for Bersatu and PBS on Thursday and Friday, while yet to make an appearance for his own party Umno.
PBS was a component of BN prior to the 14th general election, but broke away following the change in federal and state governments.
Sabah’s polls next Saturday is set to see 1.1 million Sabahans cast their votes in 73 state constituencies.
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