Is There a Place for BN in Sabah?

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The recent election results in six states across Malaya paint a bleak picture for Barisan Nasional (BN), specifically for its key member, Umno.

With a mere 17.6% or 19 out of 108 seats contested and many of those won with small majorities, the party’s standing is undoubtedly waning.

The spotlight now shifts to Sabah where the next state election is two years away. Umno boasts the highest memberships here, exceeding half a million. But the party’s dismal showing in the Malay belt in Malaya on Saturday has raised the crucial question: Is BN still relevant in the state’s political arena?

(It is worth noting that BN has a partner in Sabah in Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah (PBRS). Admittedly, the party has no seat in the Sabah assembly but that could change in the next election. The president, Datuk Arthur Joseph Kurup may be tempted to contest in one of the three Murut seats in his parliamentary seat of Pensiangan. Arthur could even leverage his influence to contest other seats. In this way, BN may still be relevant.)

But apart from the Murut nations, on a more extensive scale, is it?

Sabah BN today differs from the party that seized 80% of the seats in the 2013 Sabah election. Today, it had to rely on its ally turned adversary Perikatan Nasional (later Gabungan Rakyat Sabah or GRS) to win a simple majority in the 2020 election to form the present Sabah government.

Today, Sabah BN is led by Lamag assemblyman and its state chief liaison Datuk Seri Panglima Bung Moktar Radin, a veteran politician from the east coast of Sabah notorious for his outbursts in the Parliament.

The results of the six state elections have instigated calls for Bung’s strongest supporter, namely Umno’s president Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, to resign. Some Umno grassroots believe Zahid’s ongoing court case has led to the party’s decline. Similar appeals were directed to other Umno leaders, including Bung, for the same reason – they have been accused in open court for corruption.

But closer to home, it was the failed attempt by Bung to topple the GRS government in January this year, labelled ‘Langkah Kinabalu’ (a shoutout to Langkah Sheraton that precipitated the PH government’s downfall in 2020), that has left a stain on Sabah BN’s reputation.

His alliance with Warisan, once the party’s sworn enemy, unveiled both Bung’s and Warisan president Datuk Seri Panglima Mohd Shafie Apdal’s shocking greed and self-interest over principles.

Shafie was Bung’s first choice for chief ministership. When that failed to persuade a significant number of the BN’s assemblymen, the devious pair attempted to sweeten the deal by offering BN the chief ministership through Bung. Sadly for them, that ploy failed too, further damaging not only Shafie’s but Bung’s credibility.

Sabah BN must remember that Sabahans have long memories, and the consequences of Bung’s failed coup and the party’s recent actions will not be easily forgotten.

With BN’s dwindling support in Malaya, and the haemorrhaging of members to GRS, there seems to be growing disillusionment with Sabah BN’s direction and leadership.

At the same time, their former ally, GRS is steadily rising. The coalition has continued to grow in strength and while progress is slow, support is particularly growing in areas where they already have robust bases, such as the west coast and interior of Sabah.

Its chairman Datuk Seri Panglima Haji Hajiji Haji Noor, as the chief minister, has managed to revive the state’s economy after a catastrophic downturn under Warisan’s 27-month reign.

GRS is aligning with Sarawak’s Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) – a coalition of local parties safeguarding the interests of Sabah and Sarawak and their people. Together with GPS, they are working in harmony to regain the rights of both states under the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63). So far, thanks in part to the receptiveness of the current PH-led government, discussions have progressed smoothly, and necessary power devolutions are occurring.

But could a BN-led Sabah government achieve similar outcomes? BN had been in power in Sabah for over 30 years (and longer before that). One cannot even mention MA63 without being sharply rebuked in the state assembly – just ask Datuk Seri Panglima Dr Jeffrey Kitingan.

So, where does Sabah BN go from here? What will Bung do? The questions may linger, but Sabah’s political landscape appears to be moving forward without them. The path ahead is murky for BN, and their relevance in the state continues to diminish.

Meanwhile, Gabungan Rakyat Sabah (GRS) emerges as a symbol of progress, unity, and innovation. Under Hajij’s leadership, GRS is demonstrating a commitment to the interests and welfare of the people of Sabah. It is not merely about political victories; it is about meaningful change and dedicated governance. In a world where political dynamics are rapidly shifting, the future seems to favour those who adapt, innovate, and genuinely care for the people they represent.

In Sabah, that future seems to be embracing GRS, a coalition that is responsive to the needs of the state, respectful of its history, and determined to chart a prosperous path forward.

The narrative of BN’s influence may well become a fading chapter in Sabah’s rich political history, as the people look to a future under the stewardship of GRS, a future that appears more promising, inclusive, and in line with the aspirations of the Sabahans.

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