By : LUKE RINTOD
SWING..... Observers believe that 'even a small swing' in Suluk support in some of the eastern-coast seats could be a nightmare for Sabah Umno candidates.
SABAH Umno leaders do not believe that the Suluk voters in Sabah have deserted them following the Tanduo stand-off in Lahad Datu between Sulu terrorists and Malaysian armed forces.
“The majority of the Suluk voters are still with BN (Barisan Nasional),” said Nizam Abu Bakar Titingan, the principal political secretary to Sabah strongman, Musa Aman.
Many in the BN component parties like PBS, UPKO, LDP, PBRS and MCA share Nizam’s observation.
But deep within the Suluk community in Sabah, cracks are appearing.
If you talk to the ordinary Suluk men, the majority would still say they are “with the government”. And their leaders, in NGOs, too are issuing statements supporting the establishment.
The question now is can these Suluk supporters of BN be trusted.
Remember the Tanduo incident when the armed Sulu terrorists from the Philippines hoisted a white flag signaling a surrender or peace?
But while the white flag was hoisted, the Sulu terrorists shot dead two Malaysian armed forces.
Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak said our men were tricked.
In which case could it be that the Suluk community is once again sending a decoy to BN, to eventually surprise them by a swing in the Suluk votes?
Not so safe now
Observers here observed that “even a small swing” in support from the community in some of the eastern coast seats could be a nightmare to some Umno candidates.
The Lahad Datu and Tungku state seats and Silam parliamentary constituency (where Tanduo is) have consistently registered a huge dissenting votes against BN in previous elections.
In the 2008 general election, the Lahad Datu state seat was won by Umno’s Nasrun Mansur in a straight fight with PKR candidate, Zainuddin Zulkarnain.
Nasrun chalked up 8,034 votes against Zainuddin’s 4,976.
Now five years later, observers note that support for the opposition had further increased.
And now with the additional likely swing in Suluk votes, it’s going to be a close fight especially if it is a one-to-one battle.
In adjacent Tungku, also under the Silam parliamentary seat, and where the Tanduo action was, the situation is similar.
Here too in 2008 the dissenting voices were strong.
Umno’s Suhaili Said won the seat for BN with a 4,828 votes but there were a substantial 2,446 votes that went to PKR’s Jamal Sulai and another 164 votes for an independent.
A slight shift in Suluk support here towards PKR could tilt the balance to a 50-50 or 45-55 situation, with Umno having only the slightest advantage.
PAS, Anwar gaining ground
Local observers said that if there is a 30% or more shift in the Suluk and Badjao communities, then BN is in for a run of its money in east coast.
But Umno has never been more strong in the east coast than now.
With financially powerful Badjao leader like Shafie Apdal from nearby Semporna, Lahad Datu and Tungku and Silam parliamentary seats could well be within BN’s so-called fixed-deposit areas.
With about RM6 billion annual development fund under his control in the federal Rural Development Ministry, Shafie is in pole position to influence the politics in Sabah’s east coast.
Shafie is an Umno vice-president and cannot afford to fail Umno in Sabah. If he falters in delivering seats to BN, then it would be the end of his political journey for him too.
However, much to the dislike of Shafie and Sabah Umno, not all Suluk groups look up to or listen to the party anymore.
They now have an alternative in PAS and the charismatic Anwar Ibrahim-led PKR.
Both are known sympathisers of the Muslim community. And there is Usco (United Suluk Community Organisation).
The youthful NGO has planned to put up election candidates against BN and Pakatan at the coming polls.
Usco and Usno
Usco president, Bentan Alamin, recently announced Usco’s intention to stand in areas that have substantial Suluk voters.
Though the Suluks are mainly found in islands and coastline, many of them have settled around cities like Kota Kinabalu and Sandakan.
They are mainly fishermen, construction labourers, petty traders, street peddlars but many also have joined other sectors including the public service.
Among the areas Usco is aiming for are Banggi and Tanjung Kapur in Kudat, Karambunai, Likas, Tanjung Aru and Sepanggar in the west coast and Sandakan.
Young Bentan said that the decision to participate in the election was made at Usco’s third annual general meeting which called for the body to put up its young leaders as election candidates as “a starting point for Usco to be in politics”.
Usno, another NGO, is led by Badaruddin, son of the most famous Suluk-Bajau leader ever, Mustapha Harun. This group is eyeing at least two seats in the east coast, most likely Bugaya and Senallang or Sulabayan.
Badaruddin is aligned to Jeffrey Kitingan of State Reform Party (STAR), another sign of the emerging importance of aligning oneself to the potentially-powerful Suluk-Bajau politics in Sabah.
There are signs that other seats in Sandakan, Lahad Datu and Tawau – where state opposition parties Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) and STAR have little clout – would be left entirely to PKR-PAS-DAP to tussle it with BN-Umno.
These tussles will be worth watching. Already the situation is beginning to unfold.
Again in this pivotal polls, the question arises: who will the Suluk community look up to as its leader? Will it be Najib or Anwar? (FMT)