Possible Warisan-PBS tie-up has tongues wagging in Sabah

Possible Warisan-PBS tie-up has tongues wagging in Sabah

KOTA KINABALU: Politics is uniquely fluid in Sabah and the possibility of Warisan and Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) working together has whetted the appetite of political observers.

Universiti Malaysia Sabah senior lecturer Lee Kuok Tiung said a Warisan-PBS pact would be a unique combination if it happened, adding that this notion has piqued the people’s interest following Warisan leader Shafie Apdal’s online press conference on Tuesday.

“The video (of the press conference) went viral in the blink of an eye,” he told FMT.

Asked at the press conference if his party was open to working with Umno, Shafie instead declared that he would prefer to work with PBS, a Gabungan Rakyat Sabah (GRS) component party.

He said PBS was a local party and he knew of its sentiments and spirit in fighting for Sabah’s rights, making the party the ideal partner for Warisan.

Talk of Warisan-PBS coming together is not new. After last year’s state election, there were rumours that PBS would form the state government with Warisan, which had secured 32 seats together with its allies, rather than with GRS.

This forced PBS to issue a statement denying such talk and declaring its loyalty to the newly elected GRS coalition.

Lee said: “It is like a compliment and recognition to PBS. But nobody should let themselves be carried away as it might just be political talk.”

He said he understood why Warisan wanted to work with PBS. “We cannot rule out that one of the reasons Warisan failed to retain the state government was because Upko failed to deliver seats to Warisan Plus, unlike DAP.”

Upko won only one of the 12 Kadazan Dusun Murut-majority seats it contested.

“And being the oldest party in the state, PBS also has strong grassroots support.” Lee said.

“Besides that, PBS has always been consistent with its fight. The party also did not join any coalition (officially), not Barisan Nasional and not Perikatan Nasional. If it was power crazy, it would have joined either one of these alliances long ago.”

But political scientist Wong Chin Huat believes Warisan’s preference to partner with PBS has nothing to do with PBS being a local party and Umno not being local.

“It is rather because Warisan and Umno are both Muslim-based parties, so if they team up together for the election, they may have to give up some seats for each other,” he told FMT.

“Pre-election coalitions merely decide seat allocation and, hopefully, some vote-pooling. This can be achieved without a formal pact.

“PBS’ move will be determined first and foremost on one thing” Will it want to take on STAR (Parti Solidariti Tanah Airku, a GRS ally)?

“If yes, then it will have to pull out of GRS, if the coalition sustains in the first place. Then either Umno or Warisan – both Muslim-based – can be its open or tacit partner in the election.

“Warisan has decided to go on its own, so Upko will not be a consideration here.”

After Shafie’s remarks, PBS president Maximus Ongkili responded by saying the party was willing to work with any opposition party for the good of Sabahans, but he stopped short of addressing the issue of an exclusive political tie-up with Warisan.

Ongkili said PBS took note of Shafie’s political gesture to work together for the sake of the people, but insisted his party was “comfortable” working with Bersatu through GRS and Perikatan Nasional (PN).

However, political observers said Ongkili’s response also indicated his willingness to keep his party’s options open.

They believe Warisan sees PBS as the final jigsaw in the puzzle as far as shoring up support in the Kadazan Dusun Murut-majority areas is concerned. PBS secured seven Kadazan Dusun Murut seats in the Sabah election, while STAR won six.

Lee does not see a Warisan-PBS tie up happening for the time being, but he notes that, as history has shown, Sabah is “politically fluid”.

“Now I see PBS is committed to GRS and it believes GRS is the right platform for it to move forward. One-sided love (from Warisan) will not bring you anywhere.

“But we must always be open to new political alliances. You will never know if tomorrow, they (GRS parties) might have a problem with seat negotiations that could cause PBS to look for new political partners,” he said.

Wong said, regardless of what the pre-election coalitions would be, all Sabah parties shared the goal of joining the next federal government, which he pointed out would be a post-election coalition.

“They can work with any national bloc – Pakatan Harapan, Barisan Nasional or PN – that gives them the best offer.

“So, rivals in the election will have no problem hugging each other as partners in the next federal government,” he said.

This article first appeared in Free Malaysia Today on 13 May 2021.