Is UPKO at a crossroads ahead of the crucial upcoming state election ?

By NT

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KOTA KINABALU: Is UPKO, one of the component parties of Pakatan Harapan (PH) at a crossroads?

If UPKO president Datuk Ewon Benedick’s recent statement that he is ready to discuss with Chief Minister Datuk Seri Hajiji Noor to get the “blessing” to contest the Limbahau state seat in the upcoming election (PRN) is any indication, UPKO might have to concede that it can only run for “very few” state seats.

Many political observers believe that if PH chooses to collaborate with GRS in order to fight the state-level opposition groups, specifically Warisan, BN, and KDM, it will be difficult for UPKO to obtain ‘political licence’ to field a candidate in the Limbahau state constituency in the next PRN.

They said other GRS component parties will have to be consulted before UPKO is given the green light to run for the Limbahau seat.

The question is whether the incumbent Limbahau Assemblyman Datuk Juil Nuatim who is said to be “influential” in the area is ready to give up the seat to make way for UPKO to contest.

Community Development Leader (PPM) for Limbahau Datuk Johnny Mositun,
who is also the vice president of PBS, is also eyeing the Limbahau seat.

According to local political analyst Musli Oli, this situation may likely put UPKO in dilemma.

“I predict a 50-50 chance of UPKO contesting the Limbahau seat, taking into account Datuk Juil’s grassroots support which is said to be still intact.

“On the other hand, Sabah politics are highly unpredictable and dynamic. “Friends of today will become enemies of tomorrow,” he told the Jesselton Times.

Musli also predicted that UPKO and PH will definitely be given the opportunity to defend the seven state seats won in PRN 2020 if PH chooses to cooperate with GRS to face the next PRN.

In the last PRN, UPKO only managed to win the Kadamaian state seat through the charismatic young leader Datuk Ewon Benedick.

“In the upcoming PRN, apart from Kadamaian and Limbahau, I see that UPKO can compete for the Bandau state seat currently represented by Datuk Wetrom Bahada, Moyog (incumbent Datuk Darel Leiking), Melalap (incumbent Datuk Peter Anthony) and several seats currently represented by independent YBs,” he said.

“This means the number of seats that are UPKO will get very limited and may not reach five seats because they have to compete with incumbent assemblymen, especially from PBS and STAR, in areas where the majority of Kadazandusun Murut voters live,” he said.

According to Musli, if UPKO or PH chooses to run “alone or solo” in the upcoming PRN, the party can decide for itself freely the number of seats it wants to contest.

“No wonder that even now there are coffee shop talks among UPKO/PH supporters who prefer PH to run solo first and join with other parties that secure enough seats to form the Sabah government.

“There are also PH supporters who are disgruntled with the process of distribution of administrative positions at the grassroots level, which is certainly taken into account in determining the political direction of PH/UPKO in this state,” he said of the dilemma facing the PH/UPKO.

This is a gigantic task and bitter test for Datuk Ewon Benedick, who will steer the UPKO ark in navigating Sabah’s tricky political ocean, especially the upcoming PRN, he said.

Musli said this scenario illustrates the uniqueness of Sabah’s “aramati” politics, which is full of colour and action-packed drama.

Whatever it is, the recently passed Anti-Hop Law by the Sabah State Assembly has rendered the “Buhangkot or frog culture” obsolete, making it difficult for “political comedians” to showcase their shrewdness in politics, particularly party-hopping.

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