His boss Prime Minister Najib Razak could only echo what has been said by other colleagues – that the decision to quit by two senior Sabah BN leaders Lajim Ukim and Wilfrid Bumburing were “expected” and that “no one is bigger than the party”.
“Muhyiddin was a non-event. In the past, there was always the fear of counter-offer and money paid to change the minds of those who want to quit. But no one seems bothered anymore. We spent the whole day with both Lajim and Wilfrid and their main concern was how to form the best platform to unite Sabahans for change,” PKR vice president Tian Chua, who is the chief negotiator, told Malaysia Chronicle.
The Pakatan Rakyat – of which PKR is a member – has been negotiating with Lajim and Wilfrid to avoid multi-corner fights in the coming general election. The Opposition coalition is supporting the initiative by the two men to form a new platform for Sabah leaders to unite on and fight for change in their impoverished state.
“I must stress that this is not about forming a new political party. It is an initiative to unite political forces in Sabah to ensure that change takes place. If we don’t co-ordinate and fight among ourselves, we cannot achieve what the people want,” said Tian.
The Anwar super-glue
Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim arrived in Kota Kinabalu late on Saturday night and was welcomed by Lajim, contradicting the wild speculation that the Sabah duo had changed their minds and that an ‘embarrassed’ Anwar would be forced to take the next flight home. Pro-opposition websites like Malaysia Chronicle came under vicious and prolonged cyber-attack.
Wilfrid, the Tuaran MP, is due to launch a “reform” movement at 1pm, while Lajim, the Beaufort MP, is make an announcement at 6pm at his constituency.
Expected to be called the Sabah Reform Front, the new movement will be aligned to the Pakatan Rakyat. If it takes off, this will be the first time that the state’s traditionally fractious politicians have been persuaded to place the greater good of their state over their personal interests.
Meanwhile, Anwar and the Sabah leaders are putting the finishing touches to their pact. Their meeting began at 9am Sunday and as of press time, all is proceeding smoothly.
The 64-year-old Anwar has often been called the “glue” that gels the Opposition parties of PKR, PAS and DAP. He was responsible for uniting the opposition parties to contest as a single cohesive force against the Umno-BN in the 2008 general election.
It yielded unprecedented results, giving the Opposition control of 5 of the country’s 13 states and ending the BN’s long-held two-thirds monopoly over the seats in Parliament.
It also gave Malaysians their first taste of a ‘two-party’ political system and whether Pakatan manages to wrest the federal government in the coming months, few have any doubts that voters will ever give the BN another “two-thirds” monopoly for fear it might outlaw political competition.
The charismatic Anwar is expected to repeat the same feat he achieved in 2008 and seal the all-important breakthrough for Sabah and after that, Sarawak. This will tremendously boost the chances for the first regime change in Malaysia in 5 decades.
In the case of Lajim, it is a real warning for Najib, who is also the Umno president. The party has ruled Malaysia for 55 years and its stranglehold over the Malay electorate has been unraveling over the years, with voters’ chief complaint being its corruption and racially-tinged politics.
The loss of ground has been borne out by the latest Merdeka Centre opinion poll which showed the BN plunging 6 percentage points to only 42% in popularity rating for June – the lowest ever. The greatest erosion of support came from the Malay respondents.
Now, with Lajim’s move there is no way Najib can deny his refusal to reform his party and coalition has quickened their death knell. Lajim is not only the Deputy Minister for local housing and government in the federal Cabinet, he is the first Umno Supreme Council member to shift out.
In the days ahead, Najib is expected to sack Lajim from Umno. The Sabah leader is still an ordinary member although he has relinquished his other party posts. That Lajim will also be stripped of his deputy minister’s post is a given.
“I am not surprised by his decision. In any case no one is bigger than the party and it is loyalty that counts. We accept the fact that there is a difference in opinion between us but these can be resolved through the right channels and it is only whether it can be done quickly or not. Nevertheless, as an experienced party, we can overcome this challenge,” Bernama reported Najib as saying.
Will Najib scrap plans for Sept polls to deter further resignations?
All eyes are on whether Najib will flip-flop on previous hints of a general election in September so as to head off further resignations from disgruntled BN leaders. He had done this in June when talk of a July election was rife, even offering an additional RM1.5mil allocation for BN MPs but the bait does not seem to have worked.
Apart from Wilfrid and Lajim, more BN leaders – not just from Sabah and Sarawak but also from Johor and other parts of the country – are on queue to leave the BN, due mainly to Umno’s overly dominating hand and its refusal to let go of its divide-and-rule style of government.
Corruption, racial and religious scare-mongering have become Umno’s trademark style, making the party a liability to its coalition partners. Voters, except for Umno’s core supporter base, are rejecting this brand of politicking as being outmoded, dangerous and even “evil”.
Najib’s opponents say it is “too late” and it no longer matters whether the 13th general election is held this September or early next year. To Pakatan leaders, the die is cast.
“We actually prefer GE-13 to be next year as it gives us more time to go through the issues with the people. We have confidence that Malaysians will remain with us regardless of the election goodies Najib may unveil in Budget 2013,” said Tian.
“I think voters are mature people, they know he is only spending for the sake of getting their votes but like Lajim and Wilfrid, the situation on the ground has become too obvious. Najib can’t bluff his way out anymore. Everyone knows if BN rules another 5 years, Malaysia will go bankrupt. They will suffer even more and this is why Sabah leaders like Lajim and Ukim have finally put their foot down.”