P.176 Kimanis: A League of Its Own

By Dr. Asri Salleh

P.176 Kimanis is a parliamentary constituency with two state seats, Bongawan and Membakut. Following the Special Election Court’s ruling, the Election Commission (EC) has set 4 January 2020 as the nomination day and 18 January 2020 as the voting day. Kimanis has about 29,805 registered voters (up to 29 May 2019). Out of these, about 67% are Bumiputera Islam (mainly of Malay Brunei ethnic), 30% are Bumiputera Bukan Islam (mainly of KadazanDusun ethnic) and 3% are Chinese and others.

It is now represented by Datuk Seri Anifah Aman of former UMNO turned Bebas (DSAA). While the veterinary Dr. Daud of Warisan currently serves as the assemblyman of Bongawan, a former UMNO turned BERSATU, Datuk Mohd Ariffin represents Membakut.
Both Dr. Daud and Datuk Ariffin are local, humble and a pleasant personality to be around with.

Nevertheless, as far as prestige, class and statue go, both could hardly match DSAA. Though not a local, DSAA has done a lot for Kimanis. Among other things, Petronas’ Sabah Oil and Gas Terminal (SOGT), four new petrol stations and various other developments in and around Kimanis in years past can do the talking. Kimanis was progressing well during DSAA’s tenure. One must remember that

DSAA did not lose the 14th General Election (GE14). Although his majority was slim, many have attributed such to protest votes that were mostly meant to punish the perceived failure of the central leadership of Barisan Nasional (BN) in managing the country. But having managed to survive the onslaught, such a remarkable feat indeed, it says a lot about the large swath of influence DSAA commanded among the voters in Kimanis.

For years DSAA has shown how “Personalized Politics” i.e. down to earth personality and outstanding performance has served him, and his constituency well.

But, the alleged irregularities during GE14 have eventually cost DSAA his seat. On 2 December 2019, Federal Court upheld Special Election Court’s previous ruling on 16 August 2019 which nullified DSAA’s victory in GE14. This has necessitated for yet another by-election. After Tanjung Piai, buoyed by its massive and heart-warming win, BN is brimming with confidence. As for PH, though well-beaten and bitter beyond measure, it remains undead. Be warned, no one should jump the gun just yet.

Now one can witness a “Kimanis blitzkrieg” in motion. Political parties have begun sending in their emissary, mercenary, and machinery. The local branches and divisions have by now been activated. Night and day, one can see the political machineries roaming Kimanis, Bongawan, and Membakut. Soon things will go full throttle. And full throttle or not, the following three things still matter more than any other. They are candidacy, local issues and regional politics, which make up the three central themes of this article. It seeks to deliberate on the three and in duep rocess analyze the chances of the (political parties) candidates contesting Kimanis by-election.

As far as Barisan Nasional (BN) is concerned, for being a traditional seat holder, UMNO is very likely to field its candidate. Some have mentioned Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS). But the possibility is remote. So, people have been naming names. Datuk Mohamad Hj Alamin or Datuk Mo as he is affectionately known among the locals appears to be leading the race. After all, as the current acting Chief of Kimanis Division, a former assemblyman for Bongawan, and former Kimanis UMNO Youth Chief, Datuk Mo tops the party’s hierarchy. As it stands, Datuk Mo has the highest likelihood to run as UMNO’s candidate. A lawyer by profession (UIA graduate), Datuk Mo is young, intelligent, soft spoken and smiles a lot.

When he was the Bongawan assemblyman (2013-2018), one could see him greeting the people at weddings, funerals and many other functions week in week out. Datuk Mo enjoyed a good rapport with the grassroots. He still does.
As for Pakatan Harapan (PH), the word is that it has agreed to make way for Warisan which contested Kimanis in the last election. Accordingly, Datuk Karim Bujang (Datuk Karim) is said to be the likeliest candidate. Previously, Datuk Karim enjoyed the privilege of having served as Bongawan assemblyman for five terms (1990-2013).

What he lacks in terms of youth and energy, as opposed to Datuk Mo; he makes it up with his experience. Datuk Karim is indeed a well-known figure in Bongawan. Without doubt, having served for five terms is a record service. But some would argue that such a service record does not mean much when one has the feeling that Datuk Karim could have done more.

Alas, he somehow had inexplicably missed the opportunity to at least match the progress of Membakut which has its own District Office. One wonders if Datuk Karim truly deserves another chance really. But of course, it is the question only the voters will answer through the ballot box.

Whoever the candidates will be, they must be strong in many aspects and the key to it all goes down to the candidate’s individuality. For the sake of argument, depending on the perspective one subscribes to, the candidates can be placed into either one of the two types: a) winnable candidate and b) acceptable candidate. Candidate Type A might have the financial muscle to back up his/her campaign but does not enjoy a good rapport with the voters but still stands a high percentage of winning.

Alternatively, Candidate Type B is easily acceptable by the voters but does not enjoy a strong financial backup and yet still stands a high chance of winning, assuming money politics does not become the rule of the day. That said, for many reasons, money politics might appear outdated these days more so with a much stricter rules put in place by EC. Not to mention the watchful eyes of a host of election observers. This is where the candidates will have to be very careful.

Local Issues
Just like all other semi-urban, semi-rural constituency, Kimanis voters generally pay more attention to recurrent, everyday issues like floods, drainage, infrastructure, Auto Teller Machine (ATM), asphalt road, lightings, housing for the poor, rising prices of eggs and onions, price of commodity, petrol price and most of all Bantuan Sara Hidup (people still refer to it as BR1M though). By the way, one also needs to paya ttention to the issues of the young voters especially the issue of study loan (PTPTN) and minimum salary, among other things.

If Tanjung Piai is any indication, the young voters had made their voices heard out and loud. No nominees would want to be another collateral damage of the young voters’ wrath. No candidate would want to be at the receiving end of another massive protest vote. The current government is well-advised to take note of this. The opposition, likewise.

Much in the same vein, the same also goes to the Chinese voters and the others. No doubt their numbers are small, but DSAA won last election with a majority of only 156 votes. Yet again, many of these Chinese voters have moved to the city, especially Kota Kinabalu, leaving behind a small and ageing Chinese community who mostly run family business selling groceries and hardware. Although there is not that much to talk about, the candidate still has the responsibility to respond and relate to issues concerning the Chinese and the others.

The challenge is to entice the interest of these Chinese voters. Being small in numbers, thus small in impact, they might not be willing to return all the way home just to cast their votes. But, since politics is the game of numbers, they might just be the king maker.

On another note, as Warisan is currently the state government of Sabah, one could not avoid from discussing state issues such as Pas Sementara Sabah (PSS). PSS can very well be both instrumental and detrimental depending on the person carrying it. For Warisan, this by-election provides the chance for the party to go all out addressing the concerns raised by the people. Apart from standardizing all the cards/documents the illegals have i.e. IMM13, Kad Burong-Burong, and Sijil Banci,

PSS is meant to be the first of a series of steps the government will take to solve the issues of the illegals in Sabah once and for all. Yet, judging by the preliminary assessments on the ground thus far, the perspective looks gloomy. Many are not convinced. Many are still not in favor of PSS even accusing it to be the backdoor for the illegals to obtain citizenship.

Another concern is that since PSS is valid for three years (a fee of RM120), what will happen to the children born to the holders? What about the employment, housing and vaccination of the illegals? It is a mess out there now and the government needs to act fast. Therefore, if Warisan contests Kimanis by-election, it needs to kill the argument that says PSS is just another ill-conceived plan and stresses unequivocally that Warisan is in no way an illegal-friendly government. Otherwise, PSS could backfire. In other words, this could very well be Warisan’s Achilles heel.

Regional Politics
Political observers and analysts alike are well-aware that “regional politics” plays instrumental role in this part of Malaysia. A bit insulated from national politics, Muafakat Nasional, Dong Zhong, Jawi and other national issues do not wield as much significant an impact onto the local voters as they do for voters in the peninsular. This is by no means to say that Kimanis voters ignore national politics entirely.

Malaysian Agreement 1963 (MA63) is close to the hearts of many Kimanis voters especially in matters involving oil royalties, tanah adat and the state’s infrastructure. In short, blaming the poor and unequal treatment of Sabah by the federal government, arising from MA63, has long been the contentious issuesa mong the Kimanis voters. This is undeniable at best. Acknowledging the issues and accepting the fact that there is much to be done is the best way forward.

Having said the above, to a certain degree, one also needs to know that the sentiments of the Sabahans in the West Coast are different from those in the East Coast. Therefore, what sells in the East Coast might just not does as well here in the West Coast. The very mention of the name of ‘Datuk Seri Shafie’ might lead to a roar among the public in Semporna.

But it might just not be able to affect similar effect for the Kimanis folks. Most probably, it is due to the vastly different ethnic, religion and cultural heritages compositions of these two coasts. Local based parties like Warisan, PBS, and UMNO Sabah know this very well.
Moreover, the dynamics of Sabah is unique though not necessarily special. Since party-crossing is invariably common in Sabah, one needs to weigh in the sentiments among party loyalists.

The case in point is UMNO Sabah whose leaders right after the conclusion of GE14 in May last year jumped ship en bloc. If there is one thing that these UMNO “ship jumpers” regret of doing is that they did it in such haste that they failed to sufficiently consult their supporters and voters before making the jump. Like any other rural folks, Kimanis voters value loyalty and fealty more than anything else. Galvanizing these sentiments to one’s favor would help one to pull off something memorable in Kimanis by-election.

The question of the locality of candidate should not matter much since people are used to seeing non-local candidates contesting Kimanis. Being a parliamentary seat, locality should not be a major concern. Next up is the local issues. If UMNO were to field its candidate, he or she should know that the promise of development is a no go since UMNO is not the government. For now, a one to one personal touch might do wonders.

“Personalized politics” is the answer. And this is where DSAA and Bossku can come in very handy because if UMNO candidate’s popularity is amplified by both, one could say that UMNO Sabah has already half-won the by-election. On the contrary, if Warisan were to field its candidate, with or without the touch of DSAA by its side, he or she knows that being the government of today provides him/her with the leeway to deliver. Although making good of the promises is an entirely different thing altogether. Come what may, a candidate’s popularity is extremely crucial.

With the euphoria of defeating BN in GE14 has long gone, and if the result of Tanjung Piai is anything to go by, the current government is the one who should worry more. However, come 19 January 2020, the fact remains that neither the composition of the state nor the federal governments will change. Still, Kimanis by- election will serve as a good litmus test for UMNO Sabah’s autonomy.

Since Kimanis by-election is the first since UMNO Malaysia has granted autonomy to UMNO Sabah, it follows that a win will have consolidated Bung Mokhtar’s leadership and that UMNO Sabah could now smell optimism coming into the next general election. But if the opposite happens, UMNO Sabah has a lot to answer for. For PH, a win in Kimanis is important as it will put a brake to the current trend in the peninsular.

And that whatever happens in the peninsular has no impact to Sabah whatsoever. A win will also help prove that Warisan deserves more from its counterparts in PH. Whatever the outcome, it is best to remember that the interests of the people.in Kimanis should always come first before anything else.

Senior Lecturer Faculty of Administrative Science & Policy Studies UiTM Cawangan Sabah and Fellow, Society Empowerment and Economic Development of Sabah (SEEDS)

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