In February, Musa Aman seemed a trifle embattled. The Lahad Datu standoff the intrusion of almost 200 armed Filipinos in Lahad Datu, 10 of our Security Forces were killed – for the first time in his decade-long rule in Sabah, the Chief Minister was feeling the pressure.
But come April, as he announced his election manifesto, neatly appropriating the legacy of the state leader, Musa Aman had put behind him all disadvantages of the month before. He then set off to the length and breadth of the state showcasing his “Vibrant Sabah” policy. The message was lost on none – Musa Aman was still a crowd puller.
After eleven days of campaigning, as the Sabah Chief Minister reaches the fag end of his final round of campaigning, the biggest question being asked is – will that charisma continue to translate into votes for the Barisan National? Surveys and analysts predict yet another victory for man who has adroitly changed his image to development role model. At stake are bigger ambitions – Musa Aman reckons another impressive victory could propel him to be the longest serving chief minister of Sabah, breaking the 9 yrs jinx. But is this road a smooth one?
All I can say is- The situation in 2004 and 2008 is very different from that of 2013.
The ending of the rotation of chief minister every 2 years in 2004 saw Musa winning hands down. By 2008 Musa had begun constructing his new avatar, that of able administrator. But 2013 is without any emotive issue except for the Lahad Datu standoff. The fragmented opposition has managed to keep the election battle low profile, avoiding another bad showing like 2008. That has forced Musa Aman to keep his campaign confined to development as the key agenda.
But does that suit Musa Aman? “Not at all,” says a political commentator, who later add that, “His political existence and shrill rhetoric is what makes him an unstoppable leader. But this time there seems to be no emotive issue. The developmental plank can’t excite voters to a decisive point.”
Musa Aman, the master strategist, realises this. And so, analysts say, he has attempted to add another element to his electioneering this time, projecting this to be not only a Sabah vs Pakatan Rakyat battle but also the personality battle between Musa Aman and Anwar Ibrahim. By taking the battle to a new level, he is sending a very subtle message to the electorate. He may not concede his national ambitions but when he talks about the Sabah vs Pakatan Rakyat battle, he is sending out a message; here is a Sabah leader who can stop Anwar Ibrahim from taking the throne in Putrajaya. If that’s the case, 2013 will, in a way, establish what connects Musa Aman to three million Sabahans. If he wins yet again it clearly establishes that even without a polarized vote, Musa Aman can win based on a campaign revolving around development.
But this road is not without potholes.
Though pre-poll survey and pundits say former Deputy Chief Ministers Lajim Ukim and Wilfred Bumburing are unlikely to do much damage to Musa Aman. The L & B factor, as it’s is called in these parts, could play spoiler at least in the politically critical Beaufort and Tuaran region. Lajim had won a huge majority in the Beaufort Parliamentary last time in 2008, but this time both Lajim and Wilfred could play a role in obtaining less than half a dozen seats. After all Lajim represents the all-powerful Bisaya community and Bumburing represents the Dusuns to an extend, which is a sizable chunk of the electorate. But the basic problem with L & B would be absence of an organizational structure since both are using unregistered NGOs PPPS (Pertubuhan Pakatan Perubahan Sabah)and APS ( Angkatan Perubahan Sabah) riding on Pakatan Rakyat, to topple Musa Aman as chief minister. Lajim is politicising the position of “Janang Gayuh”, causing disunity among the Bisaya, a Dusunic group, found only in the Beaufort region. Lajim ran away from UMNO because he knew he would not be fielded this time, the same with Bumburing and UPKO who didn’t want him to stand in Tuaran. To be honest, what has Lajim and Bumburing done the last 30 years? Zilch.
After eleven days of campaigning in this 13th General Elections, Musa Aman is looking to retain power again, thus enabling Sabah to live up to the tag of being “the fixed deposit” of the BN. Despite the opposition pact’s onslaught for the parliamentary battle, Sabah BN is likely to win most of the seats won in the 2008 general elections. However, BN can expect tough fights for Kota Kinabalu, Sandakan, Tawau, Beaufort, Tuaran, Penampang, Sepanggar, Pensiangan, Kota Belud and Kota Marudu parliamentary seats. In the 2008 general elections, Sabah BN won 59 of the 60 state seats and 24 of the 25 parliamentary seats, losing the Sri Tanjung state seat and the Kota Kinabalu parliamentary seat to the opposition DAP.
The determining factor for BN’s ability to continue ruling Sabah lies in the fact that the coalition is more united in facing the elections, while the oppositon is pitted not just against BN but also against each other. Despite pre-election calls for the opposition parties to reach an understanding so as to ensure straight fights with the BN, only the Tanjung Batu State seat and Sandakan parliamentary seat are seeing one-to- one contests.
The decision by Star Sabah (Sabah Reform Party), SAPP (Sabah Progressive Party) and PKR to field almost equal number of candidates for the state seats is clear example of serious faction among them. Given the bickering among them, its hard to imagine any one of them winning enough seats to become the leader of the pack. On top of that, PKR’s insincere gesture of offering SAPP a limited number of state seats has resulted in the latter completely abandoning the hope of wanting to work with the peninsula-based party. There are campaign whispers alleging that SAPP had received RM60 million from BN to split votes in favour of the ruling coalition. Worst still during a ceramah in Foh Sang Kota Kinabalu which I personally witnessed, SAPP was on a DAP bashing spree causing distrust among the voters.
Dr Jeffrey Kitingan’s STAR on the other hand, the youngest parties of the lot, is making unexpected inroads particularly among the mostly Christian Kadazandusun Murut community in the interiors, and the BN message is as such tailored to them. So, if Pakatan cannot turn things around, it can only likely bag the Chinese-majority seats of Sandakan, Tawau and Kota Kinabalu, while in Beaufort where incumbent Lajim Ukin, who is contesting on PKR’s ticket, is likely to pull through. Pensiangan could be taken by Dr Jeffrey’s Star Sabah. SAPP is most likely not able to get even one seat.
With the end of the race just days away it is evident that winning big is extremely important to Musa Aman and how Sabahans vote will decide the road map to power politics in Putrajaya.