Typhoon in Land below the Wind

If a political party does not have its foundation in the determination to advance a cause that is right and that is moral, then it is not a political party; it is merely a conspiracy to seize power.

— Dwight D Eisenhower, USA’s 34th president

There is no denying that the two most powerful political warlords in Sabah today are Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal and his predecessor, Tan Sri Musa Aman.

They are the political elite, the top two shakers and movers of Sabah politics. The influence and power they wield over the state’s political landscape, particularly over the past decade, has been immense.

It is as if nothing moves without the chief minister’s knowledge and approval — then, during Musa’s tenure and now, with Shafie at the helm.

Shafie and Musa have both come a long way in politics; along with it emerged the undeniable bad blood between them. It all started when they were both in Umno.
Both were equally ambitious and wanted to move up the Umno hierarchy.

Essentially, this means getting elected to one of the three vice-president slots. Shafie, five years younger than Musa, eventually found favour within the party and became an Umno veep.  For some years, there was calm.

Musa was entrenched in state politics while Shafie was busy at federal level.

Their feud was laid bare again following Shafie’s sacking as a federal minister in 2015 and the formation of Parti Warisan Sabah. Shafie was back to stake a claim to be the supremo of Sabah via his new flagship, Warisan.

He succeeded following GE14 in 2018 but not after an intense tussle over the chief minister’s post.

Fast forward to present day 2020 — a political typhoon is blowing in the ‘Land below the Wind’. A typhoon is said to be deadlier than a hurricane and more damaging than a tornado.

In the centre of the ravaging storm stand, who else, but the two feuding warlords, Shafie and Musa. The tug-of-war between them is expected to be long and arduous and this will have a negative effect on Sabah’s political stability.

When top leaders are engaged in a fierce tussle, we can expect intense politicking down the line. A power struggle is a distraction Sabah (and indeed the whole nation) cannot afford now and Sabahans have to brace themselves for tougher times ahead. Do not expect a government in distress to be of much help to the rakyat. Following BN and Umno’s fall from federal power in GE14, Musa was charged with corruption and money-laundering over timber concessions in the state.

On June 9, Musa was acquitted of all 46 charges after the prosecution applied to withdraw them. The case did not make it to trial.

On June 19, Yayasan Sabah announced that it has filed a claim to recover RM872 million from Musa over purported “dubious” logging contracts. The foundation’s director Datuk Jamalul Kiram Mohd Zakaria said the board of trustees had filed the suit online with the Kota Kinabalu High Court on June 16.

In turn, Musa denied wrongdoing and issued a letter of demand seeking reparations from his successor, Shafie and two Yayasan Sabah trustees asking them to pay RM1 billion to charity, among others.

Other demands include an unconditional letter of apology. Shafie has responded with a “No” apology and chose to see Musa in court.

Observers are saying that this bad blood between the two has now turned very personal. One claimed that it is all about political vengeance and a fight to the finish is expected.

Shafie and Musa are such enormous figures in Sabah with huge following and it is very clear that in their case, it is impossible for “two tigers to live in the same cave”.

For Shafie, Musa breathing down his neck could not have come at a worst time. As chief minister, Shafie has another front to tackle — to keep his government afloat.

The recent exit of two Upko assemblymen has caused rumours to swirl of an impending collapse of the Warisan-led state administration due to crossovers to Perikatan Nasional (PN).

Upko’s Sugut assemblyman James Ratib and Kuala Penyu rep Limus Jury were the first to withdraw from the coalition, becoming independents supportive of PN.

Sabah is a state synonymous with political frogs and while Shafie is quietly confident that his two-third majority would hold, nothing is certain in politics. We have heard too often that a week is a long time in politics.

Then, one of the chief minister’s key Warisan leaders and state minister Peter Anthony was recently charged with five counts of money laundering involving RM8.75 million.

With horse-trading still ongoing and interested parties trying their luck in snapping up elected representatives, especially those currently without a party, one couldn’t help but wonder how much longer the 64-year-old Shafie is able to withstand the political typhoon fiercely blowing straight across his proud Land below the Wind. Only time will tell.

The views expressed here are those of the columnist and do not necessarily represent the views of New Sarawak Tribune. Feedback can reach him at tribunenew2019@gmail.com