Umno-Putrajaya's divided politics is affecting the ground in Sabah and giving Jeffrey Kitingan a helpful hand.

KOTA KINABALU: If you’re an advertising man, you will liken politics to a “product” for which the end-users are the citizens. For the citizens to buy into the “product”, the spokesperson must be able to communicate the product’s “Unique Selling Propositions” (USP) to the citizen.

Jeffrey Kitingan’s USP is simply “Sabah for Sabahans”.

If there’s one man in Sabah who has “bled” from the insane political “kicks, punches and lynchings”, for his bullish stance on self-determination for Sabah, it’s Jeffrey.

Despite his 31-month detention under Internal Security Act (ISA) in 1991, he has remained resolute in his political drive to abolish all laws which he feels are an affront to human and civil rights.

He has dismissed rumour-mongers, lethal media reports, political forecasts and soothsayers, doggedly determined to keep Sabah for Sabahans

Jeffrey is standing alone, dignified and refusing to align himself or his Borneo Alliance idea with either opposition Pakatan Rakyat or ruling Barisan Nasional.

He trusts neither. And anyone declaring their support for either one is viewed with suspicion. Jeffrey’s agenda is the reinstatement of the terms in the 1963 Malaysia Agreement for Sabah.

His agenda is to right the wrongs instituted against Sabah by the federal ruling coalition. His agenda is to restore Sabah’s dignity and self-respect. His agenda is to recover Sabah’s “autonomous state” as listed in the 20-point agreement.

‘This is the time’

Sabahans, Jeffrey has repeatedly said, have been financially squeezed and economically sapped by the federal government and its inequitable distribution of revenue derived from the state’s own resources.

He hammered home this message to a highly-charged audience here earlier this month.

Some 4,000 people braved the rain and distance to see Jeffrey launch his political vehicle – the Sabah chapter of the State Reform Party (STAR) on Jan 6, 2012.

Jeffrey is STAR’s Sabah chairman and has already received more than 60,000 membership applications to join the party. This within a short three weeks since it sent out 100,000 application forms.

His battle cry to his people now is simply: “Kita mesti menentukan nasib kita sendiri. Jangan biar orang lain menentukannya untuk kita. Kalau bukan kita, siapa lagi? Kalau bukan sekarang, bila lagi? Ini kali lah!” (We must decide our own destiny. Don’t let others decide it for us. If not us, who else? If not now, when. This is the time!)

He continues to do this at every gathering and at every function.

Is Jeffrey’s call for Sabah autonomy hurting Chief Minister and Umno Sabah president Musa Aman? The grapevine here has its own theories.

One tale claims that Musa is rattled by the groundswell of support Jeffrey is generating and that he and his brother Joseph Pairin Kitingan have fallen out.

The other story speaks of Musa’s secret delight in this new psy-war which is part of a “bigger” picture.

Deliverance and greater autonomy

But both tales revolve around “greater autonomy” for Sabah after the 13th general election. The details of the “greater autonomy”, however, heavily depends on the deliverance.

Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak is apparently agreeable to “some” changes. But the deal is only “viable” if Sabah delivers 100 percent in the general election.

Prior to 2008, Musa would have easily shook hands on it, but this time the situation is different.

Musa does not have the same “dictatorial power” over Sabah Umno that his peer Taib Mahmud has over his Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB) party in Sarawak.

Not only is Musa faced with internal turmoil within Sabah Umno but he also seems unable to mend fences within the BN coalition.

Much of this is anchored in “Umno-Putrajaya’s direct interference” in Sabah.

Said one insider: “Umno-Putrajaya is so divided that it is now a fight for who will be the next prime minister and whose team you are on.

“Najib himself is fighting for survival and his biggest problem is loyalty within his system.

“Musa has pledged his support for Najib but wants Najib to bring in Shafie. That’s where the trouble lies.”

The insider was referring to Semporna MP and Umno vice-president Shafie Apdal.

Shafie’s game

That Shafie is a thorn in Musa’s side is an understatement.

“Everyone knows Musa is consolidating his grip (on Umno Sabah). He’s looking for integrity and loyalty. Many of Shafie’s supporters are feeling threatened, ” said a Shafie supporter.

According to the supporter, Shafie scored a coup with Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin and Umno vice-president Hishammuddin Hussein’s recent visit to the state.

“If there was a doubt about his (Shafie) waning influence in Sabah Umno, it is now removed with Muhyiddin and Hishamuddin’s visit,” the supporter said, adding that the message has gone to Musa.

Muhyiddin, who is Umno deputy president, and Hishammuddin were reportedly here to gauge the situation on the ground. With them was Shafie.

Shafie is also rumoured to be behind the recently formed Kadazandusun Murut Association Malaysia (KDM).

According to blogger Selvarajah Somiah, the main aim of forming KDM was to redirect the support of the communities towards Umno.

The second agenda is to “take KDM away from PBS, Upko and the PBRS” (all BN coalition partners).

“Everyone knows that Musa has a perfect relationship with PBS and its president Joseph Pairin Kitingan.

“PBS is the second most important party in BN Sabah after Umno. So in order to weaken Musa, Pairin and PBS must be weakened,” he wrote.

Apart from Musa, Shafie is the most visible face of Sabah Umno. He allegedly has his eyes on the chief minister’s seat. Also in the run is current State Legislative Assembly Speaker Salleh Keruak, who has Musa’s support.

‘Calculated plan’

Against this background is the speculation of a “calculated plan” by indirect allies.

On his own, Musa is not likely to be able to thrash out any real deals with Putrajaya, but insiders here believe that local “allies” of Musa and Pairin will be able to do this for Sabahans.

This spin is anchored in the belief that Jeffrey has Pairin’s blessing in bringing STAR to Sabah and launching the Borneo Agenda.

It also took into account Musa and Pairin’s friendship, and that Musa has openly declared that Pairin’s Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) is BN Sabah’s strongest ally.

It also took into account that the new KDM cannot work well with Pairin or his immediate likely successors. Besides, it was speculated that the new KDM members want both Pairin and his immediate successors to quit the scene and pave the way for the younger KDM professionals to take over.

But this will be somewhat difficult in PBS and easier in STAR.

A “sizeable” portion of SRAR’s current membership is made up of young KDM professionals who are battling for recognition and self-respect in their own motherland.

Jeffrey’s appeal is his fearlessness and consistency.

In an FMT article last year, guest writer Nilakrisna James asked Jeffrey how he survived the ISA experience.

His response was simply: ““I survived by playing the role of a researcher… I studied and observed the behaviour of detainees in confinement.

“Behind the negative is the positive. In that situation, I couldn’t see the world with my eyes so I travelled with my mind and learnt to function through my spirit.

“Once you have gone through death, you become fearless.”

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