Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Reconciling with Jeffrey may doom PKR in Sabah

By Wong Choon Mei

As top PKR leaders in Kuala Lumpur mull the fate of their Sabah ‘strongman’ Jeffrey Kitingan (left), a storm of protest is building up in his home state, where many of the party rank-and-file are demanding that he and several division leaders linked to him be shown the door and quickly too!

These protesters – believed to represent the majority in Sabah PKR - fear that KL may recapitulate and reject Jeffrey’s recent resignation as vice-president and supreme council member. Such a decision will only bode disaster for the party and prolong a power tussle amongst the state division leaders, they claim.

Indeed chances are high that KL will opt for what it perceives to be political expediency, although party insiders reassure it will retain Jeffrey without bowing to the demands of his camp, which include rescinding the appointment of Thamrin Jaini (left) as the new state chief.

“Actually, what Jeffrey wanted was to be the state PKR chief and later on the Sabah chief minister. His supporters orchestrated the move that got Azmin Ali replaced but KL appointed another Sabahan, Thamrin, instead of him. So Jeffrey resigned as veep in a bid to force KL’s hand but although KL may reject his resignation, it will still stick with Thamrin,” an insider said.

The younger brother of current Sabah deputy chief minister Joseph Pairin, Jeffrey gave up his PKR posts along with Kota Kinabalu division chief Christina Liew (right) last month. The two accused the national leadership of racial favoritism and being insensitive to the wishes of the Sabah people. Both however remained as party members.

Dooming the PKR

Simmering infighting between division leaders in Sabah PKR finally broke out openly last month, dragging the entire party down in the esteem of voters both in East Malaysia and the peninsula.

Counter-accusations were leveled at Jeffrey and his camp for putting his political ambitions above party interests including spreading a spate of negative and false news that painted several leaders such as Azmin Ali (left) and former state chief Ansari Abdullah (right) in a bad light. According to the state information bureau, Ansari has now threatened to sue a journalist and the editor-in-chief of news portal Malaysiakini for defamation and RM10 million in damages if they did not apologize over several articles published recently.

But short of a bold and clear-cut decision from the national leadership in KL, the infighting will continue in Sabah, a state in which PKR can ill afford to allow instability to foment and fester.

Indeed, its 25 parliamentary seats will be vital in deciding who wins the federal government at the next general election – the Pakatan Rakyat or the Umno-Barisan Nasional.

“For PKR to win Sabah, the reform agenda must be renewed, rejuvenated and rebuilt. And this can only happen if there is the will to revamp thoroughly and quickly,” said state Director Of Communications Ronnie Klassen.

While many would like to see Christina retained, they are convinced that Jeffrey’s shelf life as a leader is past and long expired. They see in him a troublemaker and a spoiler, who can only doom the party’s chances.

“KL has to take a firmer stance and kick Jeffrey out once and for all. The moment he confirms he will stay on, PKR and Pakatan will have lost Sabah and Malaysia once again,” said Hassanar Ebrahim, a veteran political watcher.

An unusual quiet

But since holding peace talks with national strategy director Tian Chua (left) two weeks ago, Jeffrey has been toeing the line and keeping an unusually low profile, sparking speculation that a face-saving reconciliation was being worked out for the Sabah leader.

According to the party grapevine, Tian is believed to have told Jeffrey that he would not be offered the post that he covets above all else – the chief ministership of Sabah.

“Even if PKR wins, Jeffrey has been told in no uncertain terms that he won’t get the chief minister’s job although he may be made a minister in the federal cabinet. The job that he wants most will go to another Sabahan, not him,” a party source said.

Why then would Jeffrey - who has warned that he may form his own party - agree to stay on in PKR? Already, his supporters have threatened to resign en-masse if Thamrin is not dropped.

Could Jeffrey have finally realized that his political star is waning and it might best to give up his party-hopping ways and soldier on in the PKR after all? Or are there other reasons, ulterior motives even?

“His camp gave KL two weeks to accede to their requests and it is now three weeks. Why isn’t he keeping his word and leaving to form his own party as he has threatened to. It is actually the best thing he can do for Sabah PKR. Leave and let the party rebuild itself before it becomes too late," said Hassanar.

A new political reality

Indeed, the flamboyant and wealthy Jeffrey has failed to impress as a party administrator, achieving little success despite his decades in the political arena.

Instead he has attracted unflattering speculation including controversial rumors that he was a Trojan horse planted by the BN to wreak destruction and infighting in the PKR – much like PAS’s Hassan Ali in Selangor.

Although, in the eyes of KL, PKR may still need Jeffrey for his Kadazan-Dusun-Murut links, many Sabah leaders insist his departure will not be missed at all. They believe he has the support of only eight out of the state’s 25 divisions.

Some are even willing to bet that if he leaves, more Sabahans will join the PKR, especially the Muslims whom they say have kept their distance because of his fiery communal rhetoric. Jeffrey had in the past centred his political platform around a tooth-and-nail fight for KDM rights, stepping on the toes of other ethnic groups in the process.

But a new political reality has dawned and taken hold since. Bitten repeatedly by bad experiences, Sabahans have become more sophisticated and demanding of whom they want to lead their state out of poverty, suppression and blatant abuse of power.

Also, due to re-bordering by the BN, they now have 60 seats in their state assembly compared to 48 previously. Of the 60, 35 are Muslim-majority constituencies, eight are Chinese and 17 are KDM. This compares against the eight Chinese, 20 Muslim and 20 KDM before.

“The mood of the people has changed vastly. PKR itself espouses priority on a needs-based methodology and not on a race-based one,” said Hassanar (right).

“The situation in the peninsula has opened up the minds of Sabahans. If one Jeffrey supporter leaves today, 10 others including many from the KDM community will join PKR tomorrow. There is no need for KL to worry about letting Jeffrey go. In fact, by letting him stay, it may be barking up the wrong tree.”

(Wong Choon Mei is the former chief editor of Suara Keadilan)


  1. mana dia berani keluar...gertak saja bah itu, tapi anuar sudah faham djk punya skill.

  2. Jeffery is a fore-gone conclusion,an UMNO-Barisan Nasional Trojan horse to the core.Blood is still thicker then water.

    But looking at PKR in Sabah,what is Thamrin as the new chief doing,the way we see it,it's as if PKR doesn't exist in Sabah.Does PKR Sabah actually have a state chief?Rumour has it that Thamrin has no financial resources,and has sold his soul to Jeffery.

    DSAI has to do some soul searching,his been taken for a ride from Thamrin.

    PKR Observer.

  3. As an UMNO member in Kota Kinabalu,I now have the highest respect for Saudara Ronnie.His display of being neutral but razor sharp postings taking both sides of the divide to task is unmatchable by any one.Great leadership qualities.

    In an UMNO meeting recently,even Sabah's Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman spoke very highly of him,but regretted that Saudara Ronnie is not with UMNO.


  4. Minta penjelasan daripada Majlis Pimpinan Negeri PKR terutama sekali dari Ketua Perhubungan Sabah,Ahmad Thamrin,kami mendengar khabar angin yang MPN PKR Sabah sekarang amat kecoh dengan perlantikan dua pernasihat kepada kamu iaitu Aziz Hamid dan Richard Jayasuria.

    Ada juga difahamkan bahawa Pengarah Komunikasi Negeri telah meletakan jawatannya baru baru ini kerana hilang kepercayaan diatas pimpinan Ketua Perhubungan Negeri.Kami mendesak penjelasan.

    Barisan generasi muda.

  5. Malaysia-Today
    written by Iliyas, November 19, 2009 18:11:33

    Jeffery has way pass his prime and should call it a day.What he should be doing is grooming young leaders instead of clinging on to a post he long for that will never be his for the taking.

    My sources in Kota Kinabalu tells me that all is not so well even in the State's Liaison Committee.The new chief Ahmad Thamrin, is useless to the core.Rumour has it that the Director Of Communications,the brain behind the increase of support for PKR from the internet savvy young professionals, has tendered his resignation.If the rumour is true,DSAI should intervene and put the house in order.