DEEP in Sabah’s interior marked by rugged terrain and quite nerve-racking driving conditions, life is simple. But not politics, where a resurgent opposition is mounting the biggest yet challenge against the status quo.
With a myriad of political parties vying for seats, the battle for Sabah is down to incumbent Barisan Nasional and Parti Warisan Sabah, a loose Umno splinter group trying to stage an upset.
Beginners in Sabah politics will be drowning in the state parties’ alphabet soup with scores of mystifying acronyms used by them. Here are some of them: PCS, PHRS, PKAN, PPRS, SAPP, PPRKS, PKS and Sabah STAR and Sarawak STAR.
Having said that, the battlegrounds are mostly in the Kadazandusun Murut seats where Warisan and some other Sabah-based parties are trying to make deep inroads.
After BN, which is running in all seats, Warisan is the only party that is contesting most of the seats in Sabah, with 17 parliamentary seats and 45 state seats, marking a strong electoral debut.
In GE13, BN won 22 of the 25 parliamentary seats and 48 of the 60 state seats in Sabah. A simple majority is 31 seats.
Based on a conservative estimate, BN may win 18 parliamentary seats and 45 state seats, thus denying Warisan a shot at power in Sabah.
“Sabah should be safe for BN,” said one political analyst.
But the election campaign is as rugged as Sabah’s terrain.
Kiulu, a sleepy small sub-district in the foothills of Mount Kinabalu and which remains largely untouched by modern development, for example, is seeing a four-cornered fight in the 14th General Election this Wednesday.
Kiulu Valley, in the district of Tuaran in the northwestern part of Sabah, has some 12,000 voters.
Located about 60km from Kota Kinabalu, people here depend on agriculture as the main source of income. This includes rubber, fruit orchards, padi and mixed gardens (mostly vegetables, pineapples and ginger).
By the way, the name Kiulu is derived from a plant that is called Tulu, which is a small bamboo that commonly grows on riverbanks.
Poring, one of the 105 villages in Kiulu, has a primary school with just 12 students. But there are 12 teachers attached to the school.
To get from one village to another, they rely on four-wheel-drive jeeps to traverse hills, muddy trails and rocky rivers.
Ahead of the general election, the state seat of Kiulu has been thrust into the national limelight because of a showdown between a former beauty queen and a journalist-turned-politician.
Law graduate Jo-Anna Sue Henley Rampas, 29, is a former Unduk Ngadau (Sabah Harvest Festival) beauty queen, singer and model. She faces incumbent Parti Bersatu Sabah’s Datuk Joniston Bangkuai.
Her uncle, Louis Rampas, was the PBS assemblyman before Joniston took over. Joniston had won the seat on the BN ticket with a razor-thin majority of just 44 votes in GE13.
The contest for Kiulu is a four-cornered fight with Terence Sinti from Parti Solidariti Tanah Airku (STAR) and Gaibin Ransoi from Parti Cinta Sabah (PCS) joining in the fray.
Jo Anna was born in Kota Kinabalu to an ethnic Kadazandusun mother from Kiulu and a British father.
She was raised by her grandmother in Poturidong, Kiulu, until the age of 9 before moving to Penampang and Kuala Lumpur. The candidate said she aimed to raise the income of rubber tappers and fight to get them land titles if she wins.
“I hope people don’t just vote for me based on my looks,” she said.
Joniston said a wakil rakyat should be assessed based on his or her track record and not just by looks.
“As a local, I understand the plight of the people here. I come from a poor family and I had to walk a long way to school,” he said.
Low commodity prices seemed a major concern among farmers in this election. Of course, the issue of Sabah for Sabahans was the main slogan for Warisan — led by Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal — STAR and other small Sabah parties.
But most of the anger that cuts across Sabahan politicians is directed at Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad for his role in “Project IC” which granted citizenship to foreigners during his 22-year reign.
Datuk Seri Wilfred Madius Tangau, the United Pasokmomogun Kadazandusun Murut Organisation president, said Dr Mahathir has not apologised for the controversial project, adding that “Sabah will never forget”.
“Twenty-two years as PM, 22 years Sabahans suffered,” said Datuk Seri Panglima Radin Malleh, who is defending the state seat of Melalap. He is a big critic of Project IC.
Melalap is part of the Tenom parliamentary seat where the Muruts are the majority.
Datuk Seri Salleh Said Keruak, who dropped by in Tenom midway through the 11-day campaign, told BN workers that Shafie’s Warisan is not a party for the future and that Sabahans should reject politicians with self-interests.
Across BN events, the main narratives are about continuity, federal commitment to develop the state and restoring the rights of Sabah under the Malaysia Agreement 1963.
Salleh cited the Sabah portion of the Pan-Borneo Highway project, which will open up new economic areas and generate a lot of job opportunities.
Warisan’s Shafie, dumped from Umno and the federal cabinet in 2015, has since rallied his supporters to spread his influence beyond his stronghold of Semporna and mount a campaign to topple BN in Sabah.
His archrival is long-serving Sabah Chief Minister Tan Sri Musa Aman. Shafie used every occasion to attack Musa and his administration.
There was an occasion last year when he used the train to go to Tenom from Beaufort. But the train had to make an emergency stop after smoke billowed from under the carriage.
Speaking about the matter afterwards in Tenom, Shafie lamented the poor conditions of Sabah’s trains despite 54 years of independence.
“Is this what we want as a sovereign state; trains from the 1950s? InsyaAllah if we govern Sabah tomorrow we will change Sabah’s transport system,” he said.
“We don’t want a buffalo to be faster than the train,” he said.
Opened in the late 19th century, the Sabah State Railway was closed in 2007 for repair works after a major accident.
Last week, Musa took aim at “petty and childish” remarks by Shafie that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak was making frequent visits to Sabah because he was “running scared” of losing the state.
Musa said Shafie’s remarks were a sign of weakness.
“His comments were juvenile and the only reason he made them was to cover up his own weaknesses. Only a leader that feels threatened would resort to this type of immature narrative,” he said.
Musa challenged Shafie’s own confidence in taking power in Sabah. “If Shafie is so strong, then why is he worried who comes and how often they come?” he asked.
The writer feels in a digital world, the winner does not always take all