By : JOE FERNANDEZ
LEADERS and members in the State Reform Party (Star), Sabah chapter, are heaving a sigh of relief after Chairman Jeffrey Kitingan extended an olive branch to known “rebels” in the party despite being humbled for the first time by them at an emergency meeting yesterday morning (Friday) in Kota Kinabalu.
Falling short of waving the proverbial white flag, Jeffrey for starters reportedly did an about-turn with about 20 party leaders including rebels. He claimed that he had never issued a gag order recently against them. It was stressed that the gag order was a “mistake” on the part of some of his more “over-zealous” aides.
The more vociferous among the leaders gathered begged to disagree on making a complete scapegoat of Jeffrey’s errant aides. However, it appears that they did not protest too much on the gag order “in the interest of party unity” after the party chairman announced that two members, a male and a female, would be appointed as his political secretaries.
Lawyer Moses Iking and Ranau member Juliana Situn, it was agreed, would both be offered the post of political secretary to Jeffrey.
This is the second time that Moses is being offered a party post. He was earlier offered a vice-chairmanship but declined on the grounds that the party took no action against another vice-chairman blacklisted by the Insolvency Department.
“Many of us would have liked the aides to be hauled up for disciplinary action but the matter was not discussed,” said a number of party leaders approached separately after the session. “The appointment of the two political secretaries is expected to cut Jeffrey’s errant aides down to size.”
The party leaders, who requested anonymity for fear of being accused of fishing in troubled waters, fumed that the errant aides had not only acted with or without permission in the chairman’s name but also had been “kurang ajar” (disrespectful) of late to several senior party leaders who tried to tick them off privately.
The meeting generally did not comment or did not disagree too much when Jeffrey proposed that the gist of all press statements prepared by party leaders be first cleared with him, at least by telephone, before being issued. His main concern appeared to be on “not souring relations with other opposition parties” and “not touching on party policies”, the latter being read as euphemism for anything the party chairman didn’t like.
One party leader said he had no objections to seeking clearance from Jeffrey on his press statements “provided the party chairman bothered to answer their telephone calls”. Jeffrey, it appears, has a reputation for not picking up telephone calls, not returning missed calls, and not responding to text messages or emails. It’s even said that he doesn’t read emails except on his Blackberry if it’s not too full.
“The chairman promised to take all calls especially from party leaders,” said one party leader who attended the meeting. “He also promised to be punctual in future for appointments.”
The party chairman allegedly turns up late, anywhere between an hour to three hours, for public gatherings and meetings.
The meeting did not fault Jeffrey for this tardy time management on his part but advised him not to take on too many appointments or simply agree each time to the times set by others. He was further advised to learn to delegate and trust his fellow party leaders.
So far, Star has yet to set up any Bureaus, Committees or Sub-Committees although it claims to have a membership of 200,000, of which 175,000 it was further claimed signed up within the first three months of the party being set up in Sabah recently.
The meeting agreed with Jeffrey that the party needs to hold regular meetings and all its Bureaus, Committees and Sub-Committees need to be set up as soon as possible.
The meeting agreed that the party’s proposed vision and mission statements and manifesto, all bones of contention among the leadership and rank-and-file, need to be dusted off and tabled for discussion.
The party’s vision and mission statements and manifesto, Jeffrey agreed, would not be finalized without input from all stakeholders and unanimously agreed at a series of party meetings called specifically for the purpose.
It was tentatively agreed that the first meeting of the proposed Political Bureau would be held tentatively in the afternoon on Mon to discuss the vision and mission for a start. The discussion on the manifesto would be shelved to a later date. In the morning, on Mon, Star would sign a pact with Transparency-International Malaysia in Kota Kinabalu, the meeting learnt.
The party leaders already have draft copies of the vision and mission and manifesto following input by several Supreme Council members. However, the matter became controversial when Jeffrey’s aides sent several emails to senior party leaders dismissing their input as “just spin and bullshit”.
The offending emails by the errant aides have been cited as the reason for the current tension between the party headquarters in Kota Kinabalu and senior party leaders. It appears that snatches of these emails have found their way into FaceBook, Twitter, Chats and text messages.
Jeffrey reportedly promised that he would brief the Political Bureau on Mon on his meetings earlier this week with Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) vice president Tian Chua and party Treasurer William Leong.
No details related to Star were disclosed this morning.
Elsewhere, the meeting learnt that de facto PKR Chief Anwar Ibrahim is wary of Sabah Umno veteran Lajim Ukin and Upko deputy president Wilfred Mojilip Bumburing planning to defect to his party.
“It seems that both Lajim and Ukin are not interested in PKR but want to stand under the party symbol provided their respective factions are allotted 20 Muslim and 18 Native (Orang Asal) state seats,” said a Star leader. “Wilfred is willing to concede only one or two Native seats to Star.”
The suspicion is that both men would defect with their factions after the 13th General Election, said the leader. “We think that both Lajim and Wilfred would frog back to the Barisan Nasional (BN) after winning seats under PKR.”
Jeffrey announced in mid-April that Star would contest all 60 state seats at stake in Sabah and 26 parliamentary seats including Labuan in the 13th General Election.
The party is yet to climb down from this extreme position, reportedly a strategic move, but the word along the political grapevine in Sabah is that it would be prepared to retreat to 35 state seats and the related parliamentary seats.
It’s not known whether the 35 state seats include that which would be contested by the pro-tem United Sabah National Organisation (Usno) under the Star symbol. Usno had been reported to be eyeing 18 state seats.