Bowing to reality, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has announced that PKR will surrender some of its traditionally contested seats in Sabah to allow native Opposition parties to field their own candidates against Barisan Nasional’s picks.
Were this anyone but Anwar, and were this any Opposition but our own, the logical conclusion would be that this is a move toward long-term building of Pakatan’s strength in the Borneo states, and a rare act of statesmanship.
We are, however, stuck with the Anwar and the Opposition we have. So we must dig deeper.
“We are negotiating with several politicians in Sabah so that a one-to-one contest with the BN can take place,” he was quoted as telling reporters, maintaining the party line.
All well and good, but why is Anwar really yielding?
The underreported truth on the ground in Sabah is that PKR’s strength there has taken a merciless beating since the Batu Sapi by-election in 2010. Observers of the state remember that PKR fielded its own candidate against both BN and the Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP). The result was not merely a win for BN, but a dangerous split in Pakatan that threatens to rubbish any gains the coalition stood to make in GE13.
Opposition web portals have, for months now, wasted countless pixels on the story of BN voters and politicians moving en masse to the State Reform Party (STAR), the upstart party that, as of January, had apparently not bothered to register its move from Sarawak into Sabah. But the real story is that STAR and SAPP have seen their numbers swell not from BN defectors, but from PKR transplants upset with the party’s handling of Batu Sapi and Anwar’s leadership in general.
Although Pakatan has paid lip-service to more autonomy for Sarawak and Sabah, the truth is that they have relentless attempted to export peninsular politics and political organisation to the eastern states without any understanding of the political facts on the ground. Perhaps the high points of this strategy were the debacle in Batu Sapi and the attempt to run PAS candidates in heavily-Christian Sarawak during its state elections, though there have been many others.
Anwar is now in damage control mode. In GE12, Pakatan’s gains in the peninsula were offset by crushing defeats in the east. With steady erosion in the peninsula, just to break even, the Opposition pact must make up ground in the east, and to do so, Anwar must yield to the local parties.