KUALA LUMPUR: Even as Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim has promised to deliver “more positive news” from Sabah, escalating rumours from Kota Kinabalu have named former Sabah deputy chief minister Ghapur Salleh as the next Umno MP likely to defect.
Speculations are rife that Ghapur will be among others whom Anwar will meet when he travels to Sabah on Aug 12.
Ghapur is Kalabakan MP and no newcomer to controversy. His involvement in state politics goes back to the 1970s.
He was once Sabah’s deputy chief minister until he quit the post in 1997. In 2004, he returned to “active” politics after winning the Kalabakan parliamentary seat.
In 2008, he retained the seat unopposed and was appointed a deputy minister in the Abdullah Ahmad Badawi administration only to quit the seat eight days later, saying: “I’m not interested in any government post. I just want to do my own thing.”
This time “his own thing” may well be to champion Anwar’s mission to wrest Putrajaya.
Ghapur was allegedly among the MPs whom Anwar had eyed in his now infamous Sept 16, 2008 quest to capture Putrajaya.
During the May 2008 parliamentary sitting, Ghapur caused an uproar when he accused the BN government of practising double standard.
He said the BN government did not listen or act on the complaints and issues of the people of Sabah and if the regime did not change its ways, “in the next election, it will not just be BN which will lose. Even I will lose”.
At the time, Ghapur had also repeatedly emphasised that if not for the number of MPs from Sabah and Sarawak, BN would have lost and Pakatan Rakyat would have managed to get the simple majority to form the new government.
Infiltrating into Sabah is now pivotal to Pakatan’s bid to topple Barisan Nasional in the upcoming national polls. Sabah has 25 parliamentary seats at stake.
According to political sources here, Ghapur “has influence in the east coast” and will likely be Anwar’s pointman for his campaign to woo the east coast Muslim majority belt.
Yesterday, Anwar said that he “will be back in Sabah on Aug 12… with some more positive news” alluding to last Sunday’s defection by BN parliamentarians Lajim Ukin and Wilfred Bumburing.
Anwar said both Lajim and Bumburing had left BN because they were disillusioned with the ruling government and Umno.
Lajim and Bumburing had last Sunday declared that the government had failed Sabahans and that they had lost confidence in BN and Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s leadership.
Lajim had also said that Najib had yet to keep his promise to purge Sabah Chief Minister Musa Aman.
The grapevine in Sabah has since sizzled with names of several Umno MPs but the most recurring ones are of Ghapur and Kinabatangan MP Bung Mokthar.
Anwar, it appears, is aiming to secure as many incumbents as possible on his journey to the 13th general election expected anytime between now and April next year when Najib’s term ends.
But sources close to FMT said Anwar had a personal deadline and “it is Sept 16, 2012″.
“Sept 16, 2008 was embarrassing for Anwar and PKR. He underestimated Umno and was too trusting. The situation has changed… Pakatan does not have BN’s muscle or Umno’s wealth… now it’s a well-calculated risk,” said the source.
Anwar, the source said, is banking on Ghapur’s clout in the east coast which includes Sandakan, Lahad Datu, Tawau and Semporna.
Sharing Ghapur’s “warlord” status in the east coast is Umno vice-president Shafie Apdal, who is also Semporna MP and closely aligned to Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin and Dr Mahathir Mohamad. Shafie is eyeing to replace Musa.
Interestingly, the east coast is the epicentre of Sabah’s unresolved illegal immigrant problem and the political reservoir which channels out BN’s “fixed deposits”.
On one of Najib’s earlier visits to Sabah, he aborted a press conference to announce a Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) on the illegal immigrant issue after being told by some Sabah Umno leaders that a RCI was a bad idea as “this group” had been “loyal BN voters and its fixed deposit” all through the past polls.
So if indeed Ghapur is defecting – which Sabah Umno is denying “will happen” – it will mean that Anwar is “dividing” the turfs among the state’s political warlords and allowing them to find a strategy that best suits their respective situations.
It also explains his nod for Lajim and Bumburing to go ahead with their respective political platforms. There is no pressure on them to stand under Pakatan’s banner. What’s important to Anwar is the MP seats.
Both Lajim, who is Beaufort MP, and Tuaran MP Bumburing launched their respective political parties last Sunday witnessed by Anwar.
Lajim, who resigned from all his Umno positions, launched his Pakatan Perubahan Sabah while Bumburing announced his Sabah Reform Movement.
While Bumburing has quit from Upko which is a BN component party, Lajim has not resigned from Umno. He remains an ordinary member much like former Mahathir and his successor Abdullah.
Lajim has left his membership in the hands of Umno supreme council which has since issued him a show-cause letter.
But sources here said the letter was merely a formality and unlikely to lead to Lajim’s sacking because of his connections to the party’s top leadership.
They also claimed that Anwar had assigned Lajim to “oversee” the west-coast belt while Bumburing has been asked to ensure the Dusun community delivers the votes.
Lajim has been touted as Umno’s west coast warlord. Also lording over the west coast Muslim majority is Musa’s brother Anifah, who is Kimanis MP and Foreign Minister.
Anifah, incidentally, was also one of those allegedly approached by Anwar in the run-up to his Sept 16 deadline in 2008.
Anifah has also been vocal about the RCI. In March this year, he called for an immediate halt to the National Registration Department’s late registration exercise of 40,000 people in Sabah. He also urged the government to conduct a thorough investigation before issuing birth certificates or identification documents to these people.