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Shafie at the centre of Sabah storm

KOTA KINABALU: The political temperature is rising in Sabah – and at the centre of the storm is Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal.
The Parti Warisan Sabah president’s arrest over a graft probe involving Federal funds meant for rural development projects is the main talking point here, but it remains to be seen if this will have an impact on state politics in the 14th general election.
Observers say the party will certainly try to draw sympathy from the arrest of several of its leaders especially among voters from the east coast, where Shafie has been Semporna MP since 1995.
They said the timing of the graft investigations might just provide the much-needed impetus the fragmented local opposition parties were looking for to consolidate against Barisan Nasional in the state.
Political observer Datuk Badil Zaman Fazul Rahman said the fledgling Warisan could likely emerge as the main state opposition party to take on the Barisanin Sabah.
Shafie formed Warisan in October last year, following his removal as Umno vice-president and Rural and Regional Development Minister in 2015.
“Do not underestimate the sentiments, it might also see a consolidation among opposition parties who are now crossing swords with each other,” he said.
The head of the Society Empowerment and Economic Development of Sabah (Seeds) think-tank, who said he was giving his personal views on the issue, pointed to leaders of the local and national-based opposition parties each going their own way.
Noting that it was the “egos” of the respectiveSabah opposition party leaders parties which kept them from consolidating as a united opposition front, Badil said the timing of the MACC probe might just provide the spark for them to come together.
“The timing (of the arrest) seems to giving a different signal to the public. In politics, perception is a major factor,” he said.
But others have different views, saying Warisan leaders would be busy preparing for their cases if they were formally charged in court.
“If that happens, their election ground work will be affected, even if they put on a brave front,” said another observer.
Warisan has yet to make a clear stand if it will work with the national-based DAP and PKR.
Shafie’s party has however rejected the local-based coalition United Sabah Alliance (USA), comprising STAR Sabah led by Bingkor assemblyman Datuk Dr Jeffrey Kitingan, Parti Harapan Rakyat Sabah headed by Klias assemblyman Datuk Seri Lajim Ukin, and the Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) led former Chief Minister Datuk Seri Yong Teck Lee.
Always in the minds of Sabahans is the fallout between Berjaya president Tan Sri Mohd Harris Salleh and Tan Sri Joseph Pairin Kitingan in 1984, that saw the newly formed Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) led by Pairin topple the Berjaya government in 1985 in what was a shocker.
“It was all about public sentiment when PBS won against the ruling Berjaya,” said Badil.
Shafie, as expected, has claimed that the current investigation by the MACC was politically motivated.
The investigation centres on water, electricity and road projects carried out in Sabah between 2009 and 2015 under the watch of Shafie as Rural and Regional Development Minister.
Shafie and two of his Warisan members were among 10 people, who included Umno Youth leaders and assemblymen, arrested.
MACC has said that the probe had nothing to do with politics.
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