UNLIKE Bersatu, PKR in Sabah is less inclined recruit former Umno members for fear their entry would shift the balance of power in the party, said analysts, amid talk that the two sides are competing for the Muslim-Bumiputera vote.

Universiti Malaysia Sabah political analyst Lee Kuok Tiung said Chinese members appear to be the dominant group in the state PKR, and inducting former Umno leaders could pose a challenge to their authority.

He said recruiting ex-Umno members now will likely lead to a leadership crisis for PKR in the future.

“If former Umno leaders are admitted, the cake would have to be divided into smaller pieces. Within PKR itself, there are various groups, and I believe they can’t afford to lose their present positions in the party.  

“In Sabah PKR, the Chinese seem to be the dominant group, followed by the Kadazandusun Murut (KDM) ethnic groups,” he told The Malaysian Insight.

The state PKR’s top leaders, like Christina Liew, Roland Chia and Kong Hon Ming, are Chinese, while Raymond Ahuar and Jonathan Yassin are KDM.

Sabah Umno is dominated by Muslim Bumiputeras, and the Bajau and Suluk ethnic groups.

Lee said before Liew took over as state PKR chairman, there was a fairer distribution of power under leaders like Ansari Abdullah, Lajim Ukin, Wilfred Bumburing and Jeffrey Kitingan.

PKR has more than 150,000 members statewide, while newly arrived Bersatu said it has close to 200,000.

Sabah Umno chief Bung Moktar Radin previously told TMI that the chapter had lost about 40,000 members since May last year.

“The state Umno now has 525,000 members. Before the polls, there were 565,000.”

Since last December, when its leaders left en masse, the party’s branches have seen more members leaving than applications to join.

PKR’s Tuaran division last month admitted 935 former Umno members.

“But, I don’t see active efforts by PKR to persuade ex-Umno members to join the party since then,” said Lee.

Former Umno members Pandikar Amin Mulia, who is former Dewan Rakyat speaker, and Salleh Said Keruak are also rumoured to be joining PKR, which Liew has denied.

Sabah PKR had made it clear after the 14th general election that it would not accept Umno defectors.

An analyst says it is not surprising that PKR is the party of choice for some ex-Umno members, as it is the 'home' of the next prime minister, Anwar Ibrahim. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, September 22, 2019.
An analyst says it is not surprising that PKR is the party of choice for some ex-Umno members, as it is the ‘home’ of the next prime minister, Anwar Ibrahim. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, September 22, 2019.

A political observer said the party rejected state reps James Ratib (Sugut) and Osman Jamal (Balung), both of whom tried to join last year via PKR president Anwar Ibrahim.

Ratib subsequently joined the United Pasokmomogun Kadazandusun Murut Organisation (Upko), and Osman, Parti Warisan Sabah.

“It is also clear that most of the former Umno men prefer to join Warisan, led by Mohd Shafie Apdal, or Bersatu, led by Hajiji Mohd Noor in Sabah,” said the observer.

“Bersatu was created to be a home for former Umno members to be part of the ruling pact, and therefore, Sabah Bersatu comprises mostly members from the Malay party.”

Sabah reps from Umno Jamawi Jaafar (Kemabong), Osman Jamal (Balung), Saadi Abdul Rahman (Sukau), Abdul Muis Picho (Sebatik), Hamisa Samat (Tanjung Batu) and Musbah Jamli (Tampasuk), alongside hundreds of ordinary members from various divisions, joined Warisan after last year’s elections.

State PKR Youth chief Raymond said it is not surprising that PKR is the party of choice, as it is the “home” of the next prime minister.

“There is increased interest in PKR now, and I believe this is related to Pakatan Harapan’s promise to make Anwar the prime minister after Dr Mahathir Mohamad.”

Universiti Malaysia Sabah political science lecturer Dr Zaini Othman said Umno remains strong in Sabah, despite a slew of top leaders jumping ship to Bersatu.

He said Umno won enough seats in GE14 to retain the state for Barisan Nasional, and lost it only when partner Upko went over to the other side.

“We need to remember that in the last general election, Umno leaders were not totally rejected.

“This means Sabah Umno still has a good support base. It is not surprising that PKR or Bersatu should try to strengthen their Muslim-Bumiputera support in Sabah by wooing its members.”  

The admission of ex-Umno folk will not necessarily turn Bersatu or PKR into the BN lynchpin, he said, as jumping parties is the norm in politics.