'Defections' anger grassroots leaders


REVERSAL: The presence of Bumburing and Lajim worsens the tussle to be election candidates among PKR leaders

Joniston BangkuaiTHE excitement among the loose coalition of Parti Keadilan Rakyat, DAP and Pas leaders over the "defection" of Datuk Seri Wilfred Bumburing and Datuk Seri Lajim Ukin into their camp is understandable.

The euphoria emanates from their anticipation that it would lead to a so-called domino-effect in Barisan Nasional, which, however, has yet to happen.

In fact, political development in the opposition camp in Sabah suggests that while its leadership are rejoicing, some of its divisional and grassroots officials appear to be fuming.

Some divisional leaders, particularly from PKR, are concerned that the two lawmakers' move to align with their camp may throw a spanner in the works of the opposition's hope of loosening BN's grip in Sabah.

Bumburing, who is Tuaran member of parliament and his Beaufort counterpart, Lajim, announced their decision to support the opposition through a new political platform called the Sabah Reform Front last Sunday, in the presence of PKR de facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

Bumburing, a former Sabah deputy chief minister, also resigned from the United Pasokmomogun Kadazandusun Murut Organisation (Upko), which he is the founding deputy president.

As for Lajim, he has relinquished his Umno supreme council seat and as Beaufort BN chairman, but wants to remain as an Umno member and keep his deputy federal minister's post.

A PKR divisional leader told the New Straits Times that Anwar had apparently agreed to Bumburing and Lajim's demand that they be allowed to choose a substantial number of candidates for the coming general election as a condition for supporting the opposition coalition.

It is learnt that Bumburing will be given the power to choose the coalition candidates for non-Muslim Bumiputera constituencies, while Lajim will pick the opposition pact's flag bearers for the Muslim Bumiputera areas.

Both Bumburing and Lajim are said to have started scouting for potential candidates long before they announced their decision to throw their weight behind the opposition.

Many PKR divisional leaders, who claimed to have been working very hard to strengthen the party at the grassroots level, feared that the alleged "power" given by Anwar to Bumburing and Lajim might mean they would be sidelined and not considered as candidates.

"I have this lingering concern that our contributions as divisional PKR leaders may be ignored, as it is common for those entrusted to choose candidates to pick their allies or those who are close to them," said the PKR divisional chairman of a Kadazandusun majority area.

If indeed both Bumburing and Lajim had made such a demand, and Anwar had agreed to it, it is a politically smart move as they could use the "power" given to them to choose candidates as a bait to tempt other BN leaders to join forces with them in their coalition.

Several Upko leaders, notable among them its vice-president Senator Datuk Maijol Mahap and supreme council member Petrus Guriting, have already decided to follow in Bumburing's footsteps.

Mahap is said to be eyeing either the Kota Marudu parliamentary or Tandek state seat, while Guriting is reportedly interested in contesting the Tambunan state seat.

Bumburing and Lajim may see the "power" to choose candidates given to them by Anwar as a triumph, but a vast majority of Sabahans appear to be unconvinced with the reasons they gave for leaving BN.

"Both of them have been with BN for many years and were among those who were very critical of the opposition.

"Has BN suddenly become so bad? I reckon that their move is more personal than anything else," said a Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) leader from Bumburing's hometown of Tamparuli.

The PBS grassroots leader went on to explain that issues such as illegal immigrants, which Bumburing and Lajim have cited as one of their reasons for ditching BN, are nothing new as it had been central in PBS' struggle over the years.

"I would like to ask Bumburing and Lajim why they chose to leave PBS in 1994 if they feel very strongly about the illegal immigrant issue? We all know that PBS has always been vocal about the problem."

It must be noted that PBS and its partners in the state BN have never wavered in their pursuit to resolve the problem. This is evident from the setting up of the Royal Commission of Inquiry recently to get to the root of the problem.

For Lajim, who was instrumental in causing the collapse of the PBS opposition state government in 1994 when he ditched the party to join BN, it will be interesting to see if he is going to be second-time lucky in his hope of unseating the ruling coalition, of which the PBS is now a part of.


Writer is a NST Sabah bureau chief

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