KOTA KINABALU, Sept 22 — Mention the name Bung Moktar, and very likely, the Kinabatangan MP in all his feisty, finger-pointing, profanity-spewing glory comes to mind.
His colourful and sometimes offensive antics in Parliament have caused a lot of controversy over the years — the apparent notoriety cemented after an angry outburst was preserved for posterity as a meme.
So when Datuk Seri Bung Moktar Radin, who is contesting the new Lamag seat, was touted as a potential chief minister by way of his position as Barisan Nasional (BN) state chief, eyebrows were raised and sceptical comments abound.
“When it was first announced that he could be the next CM if the Opposition won, I was honestly taken aback. I think of him saying ‘F*** you’ in Parliament and wonder if he can be Sabah’s leader?” said a policeman who was on duty at one of BN’s events on the northern island of Banggi.
“But I’ve been seeing more of him lately, and this Bung is very different from Parliament Bung. He is much nicer than I thought he would be, and very approachable,” he said.
Figures on both sides of the political divide describe him as a good friend, generous and affable, but some cast doubt on him as a potential leader of the state.
“The Bung you see in Dewan, he is playing a role. It’s not like outside the House. In a two-party system, I have to defend my ministers, my government,” said Bung when speaking to Malay Mail.
“Outside, during campaigning time, I have a duty to inform the public, it's different. But the real Bung is the one outside,” he said.
On the ground, Bung’s persona is that of a man of the people.
“I’m not here to sugarcoat things, or be a VIP. There’s no need to be treated like a sultan.
“Leaders need to be approachable, not feared. Not bodyguards everywhere,” he said.
On the campaign trail, there are few signs of the usual crude jokes, little-to-no barrier between him and the public, and his jokes are sometimes self-deprecating.
The Sukau native has managed to strike a balance between his presence, ability to laugh at himself, generous nature and demeanour, endearing him to Sabahans and earning him a very loyal grassroots following along the way.
He acknowledges that he is sometimes more known for his feisty character but says this is all part of the role.
“To be honest, I don’t mind actually how people see me. Because my Dewan character is like that,” he said with a laugh.
But aside from his provocative persona in Parliament, more and more people have seen the serious statesman-like side of Bung since he took over the reins of Sabah Umno at the end of 2018 following the mass exodus of its elected representatives and key members.
Bung has led a team of younger leaders to overhaul the party’s image since then.
“We did a survey, and most parties that fall in an election like this will never get up. So I have worked very hard, to make sure we don’t suffer that fate. We needed to change, so we did. From our leadership, to skills, to our organisation, we needed to convince people we had changed as a whole,” he said.
In what was seen as a courageous but risky move, he fielded nearly 90 per cent new faces in the 32 seats that Umno is contesting, opting to leave out veterans and established incumbents. Former chief minister Tan Sri Musa Aman and Sepanggar division chief Datuk Abdul Rahman Dahlan were among them.
“Choosing the candidates was the hardest thing I’ve had to do in all my years as a politician. Sometimes, there are three very qualified candidates for one seat, and if you choose one, the other two will be unhappy. So whoever you decide on, you have to assess the risk of sabotage. But I strongly believe the new faces are what is good for us,” he said.
During campaigning, Bung’s schedule has been packed, with up to six programmes a day sometimes.
He tells Malay Mail that he keeps his energy up with effervescent orange-flavoured multivitamin supplement Berocca, which is also famously favoured by former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
Bung has slogged through the election merry-go-round many times, as a five-term MP, and before that, a Kuamut state candidate in 1994.
This time, he has tirelessly criss-crossed the state, travelling to far-flung areas campaigning for Umno and BN and peddling his manifesto, called Aku Janji, as his promise to Sabah.
“I put my heart and ideas into it to give Sabahans what they asked for,” he said.
“As a Sabahan and a human being, I want to see places like Lamag and Pitas come up. There is so much potential in Sabah and my priority is for Sabah to not be so far behind other peninsula states,” he said.
Bung said he never expected to be in the running for the chief minister’s position, given that he was appointed when a whole legion of leaders and assemblymen left Umno for Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia.
He recently faced an internal rebellion when 12 division heads, led by Datuk Abdul Rahman Dahlan, objected to his appointment as BN election machinery director.
The latter said that it was “suicidal” to appoint Bung to head BN going into the state elections.
Bung, to his credit, kept a calm and respectful public demeanour and said he would try to reconcile their differences.
He has maintained the same diplomatic stance about the open rivalry between him and former chief minister Tan Sri Musa Aman, who was conspicuously dropped from the Umno line-up for the Sabah polls.
“I’m hoping he will campaign for us, as the former chief minister and Libaran Umno leader,” he said.
On whether their hostilities will affect his chances of winning and becoming chief minister, Bung just shrugged his shoulders.
“My job now is to make sure our candidates win. Then we can talk about the chief minister post,” he said.
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