BERSATU is not in Sabah and Sarawak yet due to strong East Malaysian sentiments, party chairman Dr Mahathir Mohamad told members at a seminar today

He noted it was difficult to form Bersatu branches in both states now as East Malaysians strongly hold onto “Sabah for Sabahans, and Sarawak for Sarawakians” policies.

But Dr Mahathir told Bersatu members the party’s expansion into both states, especially Sabah, is underway as they are seeking cooperation with former Umno vice-president Mohd Shafie Apdal who is leading a new party, Parti Warisan Sabah (Warisan).

The year-old Warisan has captured the imagination of rising politicians and many young Sabahans who want greater autonomy from Putrajaya.

Shafie refused to join Bersatu, which also started last year, despite being offered the deputy president’s post to start Warisan and stop the practice of making decisions for Sabah by peninsula-based political parties, a long-standing grouse among Sabahans.

Noting this, Dr Mahathir told the seminar today, “If we enter, there might be problems between us and existing parties in both states.

“We are aware of Parti Warisan Sabah and we are trying to seek cooperation with Shafie,” the Bersatu chairman said.

Dr Mahathir was responding to a question raised by a party member regarding Bersatu’s absence in both the Borneo states.

Warisan is now in the spotlight with its vice-president, Peter Anthony, remanded over an alleged RM1.5 billion scandal involving federal funds for rural water and electricity supply projects in Sabah.

Shafie, a former rural and regional development minister during the period when the funds were allegedly stolen, has said the probe is an attempt to destroy him politically.

Dr Mahathir said he was also warmly welcomed by Sarawakians during his recent visit there.

“Many feared that I would be denied entry into Sarawak. Fortunately I received a warm welcome from the locals. They want me to visit Miri now,” said Dr Mahathir who is also the chairman of the opposition coalition, Pakatan Harapan (PH).

Last month Dr Mahathir and DAP supremo Lim Kit Siang were in Kuching for PH’s first ceramah in Sarawak.

There were fears that they would be denied entry after PKR’s Ampang MP Zuraida Kamaruddin and Petaling Jaya Selatan MP Hee Loy Sian were barred from entering Sarawak after landing in Miri.

“However, I have yet to visit Sabah. We need to decide what is best for the locals there,” Dr Mahathir said.

Bersatu president Muhyiddin Yassin said the party will be established in East Malaysia when the time is right and added they are currently working on strengthening the party in Peninsula Malaysia.

“When the time comes, we will spread our wings there (East Malaysia).

“We took some time to form the party in Peninsula Malaysia due to financial issues, among others.

“For the time being, we will focus on strengthening our position in the peninsula and with our current position, we can achieve victory and I am confident we can spread into East Malaysia,” he said.