KOTA KINABALU, Nov 6 — Most of the state’s top party leaders will face fierce competition for their seats in the 15th general election.
Chief among them is Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia vice president Datuk Ronald Kiandee, who is willing to break ranks to try and keep Beluran for the sixth term, becoming the only Bersatu candidate to face an Umno opponent in Sabah.
He is in a five-cornered fight in which his toughest competition is likely to be his intended replacement, Umno newcomer Benedict Asmat.
Upko president Datuk Wilfred Tangau, who is defending his seat for his third term, will for the second time face Parti Bersatu Sabah information chief and rising star Datuk Joniston Bangkuai as well as popular beauty-queen-turned-politician Joanna Sue Henley Rampas.
Three other new faces are also in the fray: Gerakan Tanah Air’s Pejuang Muminin Norbinsha and independents Noortaip Suhaili and Boby Lewat.
It may be an uphill battle for Tangau who, despite being the most experienced, considers himself the underdog.
Bangkuai is the lead challenger for the post, being the Kiulu assemblyman and deputy tourism, culture and environment minister. He also has the backing of Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Hajiji Noor, who is the assemblyman for Tuaran’s Sulaman state constituency.
Hajiji has openly endorsed Bangkuai and brought out the might of the Bersatu machinery for nomination day, and showed support throughout the day.
Stakes are also high for both incoming Upko president Datuk Ewon Benedick and Warisan deputy president Datuk Darell Leiking who are facing each other in the Kadazan heartland seat of Penampang, where voters are particularly fickle.
No parliamentary elected representative has lasted more than two terms in the seat and Leiking is looking to break the streak. However, Warisan has been struggling to widen its base with the non-Muslim Bumiputera community outside of urban areas.
Ewon, who is set to take over from Tangau at the next party congress, is out to prove his mettle as the party’s youngest president and Pakatan Harapan’s sole Sabah-based party. Ewon is already the Kadamaian assemblyman.
Parti Solidarity Tanah Airku president Datuk Dr Jeffrey Kitingan will be facing former foe Datuk Jake Nointin, whom he only narrowly beat in GE14 with a razor-thin margin of 45 votes. Jake was with Warisan then, but is now riding on the new Parti Kesejahteraan Demokratik Masyarakat.
The duo are joined by two other candidates, Rasinin Kautis (Warisan) and Grelydia Gillod (PH), in a four-cornered contest.
Parti Bersatu Sabah president Datuk Seri Maximus Ongkili is facing the fight of his life in his stronghold of Kota Marudu against former GRS ally Datuk Wetrom Bahanda. The latter was a former Umno and Bersatu division leader who has harboured designs on the state for some time, and has settled into PKDM as deputy president.
His challengers include Muda’s sole Sabah candidate, Shahrizal Denci, a young and modern agriculture enthusiast who is looking to revolutionise the industry and lift the district from poverty.
Other candidates are Warisan’s Datuk Jilid Kuminding, a diplomat; independent candidate Norman Tulang; and Parti Pejuang Tanah Air’s Mohd Azmie Zulkiflee.
Ongkili, a stalwart of Kota Marudu, has been struggling to unite the Kadazandusun vote with PBS and a loss in this seat would be devastating for the party.
PH’s state chief Datuk Christina Liew is defending the Tawau seat but her win in GE14 was largely attributed to Warisan president Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal, whose popularity in the east coast is high. It remains unclear whether PH can retain voter support without Warisan.
One of three urban seats with a high population of Chinese voters, Liew will face Warisan’s young lawyer KC Chen, PBS’s Lo Su Fui, Pejuang’s Herman Amdas, and two independents Datuk Chin Chee Syn and Mohd Salleh Bacho.
BN’s PBRS deputy president Datuk Arthur Kurup may face difficulty in defending his Pensiangan seat for the second term from PKR Sabah chairman Datuk Sangkar Rasam and Warisan’s Noorhasmahwatty Osman among others.
Former Kota Belud MP and federal minister Datuk Seri Abdul Rahman Dahlan is also looking for a comeback and will take on Warisan’s Isnaraissah Munirah Majilis who wrested the seat from him in the 2018 general election.
Of the party leaders, Sabah BN chairman Datuk Bung Mokhtar Radin and Shafie look set to retain their seats comfortably for the sixth and seventh term, respectively.
Both still enjoy huge grassroot support and will likely spend more time campaigning for others in their parties.