Former Umno vice-president Mohd Shafie Apdal’s decision to take over a Sabah-based party is perceived by political analysts as a short-cut route for him to gain a political platform to participate in the next general election.
Although it is still early to ascertain the impact of his move, the analysts however believed that the former Rural and Regional Development Minister was unlikely to cause a ripple in Sabah’s political scene, nor create any major shift in the people’s support for Umno.
Last Thursday, Shafie went to the Registrar of Societies (RoS) in Putrajaya to finalise changes to the party’s name, logo and other details. He was accompanied by Sulabayan state assemblyman Jaujan Sambakong, and former Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) vice president and Penampang Member of Parliament Darell Leiking.
Shafie, who has taken over a party in Sabah that was formed in 2013, had told reporters that the party’s new name and other details would only be announced after the RoS has given its approval.
Political analyst Associate Prof Jeniri Amir said it was obvious that Shafie was trying to save time and energy by taking over an existing party because registering a new party was a time consuming affair.
“With rumours of an early election being rife, taking over a dormant party is considered a wise move. He (Shafie) now needs to work on strategies to ensure the success of his party,” said Jeniri, who is attached to Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas).
Without effective support from the grass roots and list credible candidates, it would be difficult for the party to win the people’s support, he said.
Apart from that, Shafie’s biggest challenge would be to bring all the opposition parties in the state under one umbrella.
“He knows the only way for him to remain in politics is by focusing on Sabah and not to spread his wing to the peninsula as yet. This is practicality. I don’t underestimate Shafie but his influence is limited to a certain group,” observed Jeniri.
Another political analyst, Suffian Mansor, said Shafie’s decision to take over a Sabah-based party probably stemmed from the fact that most Sabah and Sarawak politicians did not want to be associated with peninsula-based parties.
“It is wise for him not to join Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM). He needs to gain local grass-roots support. As you know, people in Sabah and Sarawak prefer to support local parties. If he tied up with PPBM, people will surely question him as to how he will fight for Sabah’s rights,” he said.
Suffian, a senior lecturer in history, politics and strategic studies at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, said Shafie had likely studied the recent Sarawak state election and realised how local sentiment had impacted its outcome and enabled Barisan Nasional (BN) to secure an overwhelming victory.
In the May 7 Sarawak election, BN won 72 seats out of 82 seats in the State Legislative Assembly.
“First, he will have to capture the Sabah voters’ hearts and minds but I think eventually he will associate his party with PPBM.
“But right now the biggest problem is how his party is going to work with PKR in Sabah. DAP is not a problem because they are more likely to contest in the Chinese-majority areas; PKR, on the other hand, will go for the mixed seats and even Muslim-majority seats,” said Suffian.
Senior lecturer at Unimas’ Faculty of Social Sciences Arnold Puyok believed that Shafie was likely to “associate himself” with United Sabah National Organisation or Usno Baru, which was formed in 2013.
“However, I reckon that Muslim voters are most likely to support Chief Minister Musa Aman and others like Bajau leader Salleh Said Keruak who is also the Minister of Communications and Multimedia,” he said.
Universiti Malaya associate professor in socio-cultural studies Awang Azman Awang Pawi said the Shafie-led party’s participation in Sabah politics may affect PKR more than BN or other opposition parties like DAP.
“The first sign of impact for PKR came after Darell quit the party to join Shafie. In Sabah, it is common for politicians to jump from one party to another. Now all eyes are on Sabah PKR chief Lajim Ukin; it will be interesting to watch what his next move will be. Will he join Shafie’s party?”
Awang Azman said Sabah politics was very much state-centric and the formation of another opposition party would push PKR, which was a national party, to a corner.
Lajim, who was a former deputy Housing and Local Government minister, quit UMNO in 2012 to join PKR. He is currently the opposition leader in the Sabah State Legislative Assembly.
Director of Universiti Malaysia Sabah’s Strategic and Security Research Centre Zaini Othman opined that it was too premature to predict the impact of Shafie’s latest move.
“It’s obvious that he wants to make his presence felt in Sabah after his departure from Umno. The public has been anticipating his party but to me, it is still premature to analyse its political impact on Sabah and at the national-level,” he said.