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Showdown in Semporna

Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal’s dramatic exit from Umno has split political sentiments down the middle in his power base of Semporna but it has strengthened the hand of Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman who is his long-time nemesis.

FORMER Cabinet minister Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal was performing the umrah when news of his suspension from Umno reached him in Mecca.

It hit him like a tonne of bricks and by the time he returned, he had made up his mind.

Word had gone around in Semporna that he would be resigning from Umno and there was a big crowd waiting when his black MPV pulled up at his Semporna house on Tuesday morning.

Political exit: Upset at being suspended by his party, Shafie (right) announced his resignation from Umno which also sacked Mukhriz (left) and Muhyiddin

His career began in Semporna, his family roots are there and he has some pretty fanatical supporters going by the way some of them were screaming his name as he squeezed his way towards his house.

The original house was a wooden kampung structure on high stilts but that was a long time ago and there is now a fancy tiled stairway with stainless steel balustrades leading up to a modern building. The house overlooks a vast compound where Shafie had built a multi-purpose hall. It was there, later in the afternoon that the former Umno vice-president made a long and fiery speech and announced that he was quitting Umno.

It was quite emotional and Shafie wept at the end of the speech. As he walked from the rostrum, several of his supporters wiped sweat from his face and one of them even tried to dab at his tears. Others pressed forward to shake his hand while the more familiar planted kisses on his head.


Rahman: People forget Umno is bigger than the individual

Sakaran is also Shafie’s uncle and the power base has since passed from uncle to nephew.Umno politics in Semporna used to be centred around Tun Sakaran Dandai, the former MP and Umno strongman in Semporna who used to be the governor of Sabah.

Shafie started out as the political secretary to Sakaran who groomed the younger man to take over. In turn, Shafie’s deputy in the division is Sakaran’s son Datuk Nasir Sakaran.

Family politics rules in these parts. It can be quite suffocating given the way everyone is related in one way or another. But family ties are about to be put to the test in Semporna.

Shafie’s exit from Umno has split political sentiments down the middle in this coastal seat.

Datuk Jaujan Sambakong, the Sulabayan assemblyman, has joined Shafie by resigning from Umno. Sulabayan is one of the three state seats in the Semporna parliamentary area.

But Shafie’s own political secretary and cousin Razak Sakaran is not with him. His other cousin Nasir is staying put in Umno.

On the day Shafie announced his resignation, Nasir was in Kuala Lumpur where he told fellow Sabahan Datuk Akbarkhan Abdul Rahman that he does not agree with his cousin’s politics.

“Nasir told me he is with Umno. The cousins are close but the Sakaran family is loyal to Umno,” said Akbarkhan who used to be the Libaran MP.

Shafie’s younger brother Datuk Yusof Apdal, who is Silam division chief and Lahad Datu assemblyman, is not joining his brother – for now at least.

Musa: The smiling tiger of Sabah has broken the 13-year jinx.
Musa: The smiling tiger of Sabah has broken the 13-year jinx.

The stage is set for a showdown in Semporna.

“It would be a different story if this happened a year ago. But the Prime Minister is on a very strong footing, the party is behind him. So many people fail because they forget that the party is always bigger than the individual,” said Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Rahman Dahlan.

Shafie’s suspension came at the same time as the sacking of Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir by the Umno supreme council.

A year ago, the opposition politicians would have gone to town with it. DAP leaders blame Umno for everything that goes wrong under the sun but the moment an Umno leader quits the party, the same DAP leaders are fawning over them and hailing them as heroes.

There would have been another attempt at a vote of no confidence against the Prime Minister and yet another Sept 16 suspense story cooked up.

But times have changed. The opposition parties are fighting their own internal fires.

A recent meeting between several Pakatan Harapan leaders and Muhyiddin sparked off rumours that he would be the next opposition leader.

It was untrue because not all Pakatan leaders are impressed by Muhyiddin or Mukhriz. They can see by now that the “three Ms”, including Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, have failed to bring others in Umno with them.

PKR leaders are also dead against Shafie whom they accuse of having a hand in the sex video that allegedly featured Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

Umno members, said Unisel Vice-Chancellor Prof Datuk Redzuan Othman, follow whatever their leaders say.

“But nobody cares the moment you are no longer in power. I cannot see Muhyiddin forming a new party, you need a lot of energy and money for that. My advice to them is to follow Husni’s footsteps – study religion,” said Dr Redzuan, referring to former Finance Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Husni Hanadzlah’s intention to spend his retirement studying Arabic and learning more about Islam.

The chatter among Sabah journalists is that Shafie will likely join forces with the United Sabah Alliance (USA), a grouping of Sabah-based opposition parties, to contest in the next general election.

Shafie’s sacking from the Cabinet last year had little impact in Sabah but what if he hooks up with USA to take on Umno?

“He is a force to watch, he is influential. He can win in Semporna if elections are held now but can he keep the momentum going till next year?” said a Kuching-based journalist.

Shafie will not only be up against Umno, he has to take on the smiling tiger of Sabah, Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman.

The Shafie-Musa rivalry has become legendary in the state and Shafie had singled out Musa to attack in what is now known as his “farewell speech”. He seems to believe, rightly or wrongly, that Musa had lobbied for his suspension.

Musa has not said a word about Shafie’s resignation. Instead, true to style, he lets his men do the talking and the gist of their reaction can be summed up in two words: Good riddance.

When pressed by reporters, Musa said he had no comment because he was in a “Raya mood”. Well, he has a lot to celebrate now that his nemesis is out of the way.

Like in Sarawak, the Sabah Chief Minister enjoys much more power and influence than his peninsula counterparts.

Over the years, Musa has become some sort of flashpoint in Sabah mainly because so many lust for the Chief Minister post. Shafie was also eyeing the post even though he has denied it.

“It is the dream of many politicians in Sabah – all that power under the sun. You can even bar people from the peninsula from entering,” said Akbarkhan.

The Chief Ministership also used to be stuck with this “unlucky 13” jinx – Chief Ministers in Sabah could not last beyond 13 years. But Musa has survived the jinx. He marked 13 years as Chief Minister in March and is now stronger than ever.

There are all sorts of stories about Musa’s wealth and, for several years, he was dogged by various smear campaigns and allegations of corruption. But the fact is that his corporate style of administration seems to work for Sabah.

“Which Prime Minister would want to change a Chief Minister who delivers a strong mandate one election after another? Musa has brought economic growth to the state, he has the support of civil servants and he gets along with our coalition partners,” said Rahman, who used to be his political secretary.

Shafie, contesting on the USA opposition platform, will bring a new dimension to Sabah politics but the reality is that it will further split the opposition vote.

Shafie, according to a political consultant, thought he was on the way to being rehabilitated when he left for Mecca with his wife. He knew his career was over but he had hopes that Umno would let him contest in Semporna in the general election.

The suspension was the straw that broke the camel’s back. He felt let down and claimed that he had not attacked Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak at any public forum. He told his inner circle he felt betrayed by Najib. He said he had done a lot for Umno in Sabah and that he felt unappreciated.

But there are always two sides to a story. Those around Najib said that it is Shafie who did not appreciate what Najib had done for him. They said Najib used his clout to help Shafie become the first Umno vice-president from Sabah in 2009.

In the 2013 Umno election, Najib was concerned that the Sabah warlords would sabotage Shafie and he sent out word that Sabah must again support Shafie for vice-president.

Rahman could sense that Najib was deeply hurt by Shafie’s actions in the last one year.

“Mahathir attacking him, he could understand that because Mahathir is a political animal. He could also see where Muhyiddin was coming from, he wanted to be the No 1.

“In Shafie’s case, I think it really hurt the PM because they were more than just allies. They were also friends,” said Rahman.

Shafie’s exit has stirred sentiments in his power base of Semporna.

But outside of Semporna, it is a case of one less warlord to deal with in Umno. It has strengthened his nemesis’ hand and Musa is now the king of the hill.

Tags: politik
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