A PARLIAMENTARY constituency famous for its noodles is seeing a surge in interest in politics, especially with more Sabah-based parties looking to defeat the Barisan Nasional ruling coalition.

But because the opposition parties cannot consolidate, they are likely to fight against each other, split the votes and hand BN victory – just like in the 13th general election.

This is despite the increased interest in restoring Sabah rights and worries over illegal immigrants, both of which have cast BN in a bad light among residents, such as 37-year-old Rio Henry.

“The Tuaran people, in general, love politics. And some can be extreme on social media,”   said Henry.

But local BN activists said it will be an easy win for the coalition again as the opposition is fractured.

So, while parties like Warisan Sabah are making an impression on voters, a crowded field of opposition candidates will only benefit the ruling coalition.

In GE13, BN’s Madius Tangau garnered 20,685 votes to win the seat by 5,190 votes. Trailing him was PKR’s Wilfred Mojilip Bumburing with 15,495 votes.

Independent candidate Erveana Ansari Ali garnered 2,264 votes while Sabah Star Samin @Jasmin Dulin received 1,509 votes.

The Registrar of Societies has approved the registration of 13 new parties, some of which are likely to make their debut in GE14.

Henry believes this is a sign of things to come in the district which has more than 48,000 voters. They comprise non-Muslim Bumiputeras at 50%, Muslim Bumiputeras at 44% and the rest are Chinese.

But a new trend among voters is about to give BN a run for its money.

Rising regionalism

Henry is seeing increased interest among residents for Sabah-based parties.

Sabahans, especially in the west coast long for the days when they were ruled by Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS), Berjaya or Usno (United Sabah National Organisation) in the early 1980s, he said.

“Many are no longer keen on the national-based parties and want to be like Sarawak, where its people decide their own affairs, without having to get consent from Putrajaya,”   said Henry.

In GE14, Tuaran folk are likely to see three Sabah-based groups competing for their vote. They are the United Sabah Alliance (USA), Parti Cinta Sabah (PCS) and Warisan Sabah.

National opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan has also indicated its interest to contest Tuaran again, since it lost it by about 5,000 votes. In Sabah, PH is represented by DAP and PKR.

If there is no electoral pact between them, this could mean the anti-BN vote could be split four ways in GE14, thus making it even easier for BN to retain the seat.

Sabah PH chairman Christina Liew said the coalition is in talks with other opposition parties to form an electoral pact.

Parti Warisan Sabah president Shafie Apdal (centre) was arrested in October over graft linked to his former ministry. Warisan is expected to give Barisan Nasional a run for its money in the next elections. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, December 22, 2017.
Parti Warisan Sabah president Shafie Apdal (centre) was arrested in October over graft linked to his former ministry. Warisan is expected to give Barisan Nasional a run for its money in the next elections. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, December 22, 2017.

USA is made up of Sabah Star led by Jeffrey Kitingan, Parti Harapan Rakyat Sabah led by Lajim Ukin, Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) led by Yong Teck Lee and Parti Perpaduan Rakyat Sabah led by Arshad Abdul Mualap.

USA has already indicated it is eyeing the state seats of Tamparuli, Kiulu and Sulaman, under the parliamentary constituency.

In GE13, PKR’s Bumburing won the Tamparuli seat with 6,862 votes, followed by PBS’ Jahid Jahim with 6,479 votes in a five-cornered contest. Bumburing won the seat with a simple majority of 383 votes.

In Sulaman, BN’s candidate Hajiji Noor outclassed all his opponents by getting a 10,000-vote majority to defeat Star, PKR and an independent candidate.

In Kiulu, Joniston Bangkuai from PBS won the state seat with 3,745 votes, followed by PKR’s Rhodes Panilau with 3,701 votes.

Of the four parties, only Sabah Star and SAPP fielded candidates at both the state and parliamentary level.

Based on the GE13 results, they are almost no match for the bigger coalitions, BN and Pakatan Rakyat.

But based on expectations that there is a rise in regionalism in GE14, leaders from PKR, such as Bumburing and Darell Leiking, left to form Sabah parties.

Bumburing founded Parti Cinta Sabah while Leiking formed Warisan with former BN and Umno Sabah leader Shafie Apdal.

“But Bumburing can expect a tough fight from BN which wants to reclaim Tamparuli,” said a BN activist who declined to be named.

Warisan is confident of capturing Tamapruli and Kiulu, said its Tuaran coordinator, David William.

This is based on increasing voter resentment towards BN in those areas, he said.

“People are constantly talking about Warisan these days. They appear to be interested in the Warisan call for the return of state rights. Tuaran folk are calling for a change.”  

Warisan’s biggest concern is the Sulaman state seat given that BN won it by 10,000 votes.

Projects galore

Despite being on the defensive when it comes to Sabah rights, BN has not been resting on its laurels when it comes to appealing to Tuaran voters.

Long-time resident Michael Johnny said the state government recently announced plans to increase domestic tourism and Kiulu has been earmarked as one of the areas for its pilot project, along with Kadamaian.

Johnny is referring to a RM228 million allocation to develop new tourist products. The inventively named “lung-cleansing tourism” is about promoting hiking and trekking activities in the district.

Tuaran MP Madius Tangau, who is also the science and technology minister, also proposed building a new science, technology, engineering and mathematics institution in the district.

The government is also building a new Tuaran sports complex and the K Bantayan-Tuaran bridge.

Warisan’s William does not think that the special projects will sway voters who are more worried about basic issues, such as the price of latex.

“A lot of people in Tamparuli and Kiulu tap rubber. But many of them don’t earn much from selling their latex to the Sabah Rubber Industries Board.

“We plan to break the monopoly of the rubber market in Sabah, by allowing smallholders to sell their produce to companies which offer them the best prices.”

But no matter how good each party’s promises may be to the Tuaran folk, Henry thinks what really matters in the end is whether there will be a straight fight against BN.

History shows that whenever BN faces more than one opposition party, it always wins.