Monday, January 09, 2012

All abuzz over Lajim’s next game plan


The main players are all coy about the issue although talk is rampant that Sabah political bigwig Datuk Lajim Ukin wants to leave Umno to head a party.

IS Deputy Housing and Local Government Minister and Umno Supreme Council member Datuk Lajim Ukin forming a political party or staying put in Umno?

That’s the top coffeeshop topic in Sabah. And the talk is that the Beaufort MP will take over a mosquito Sabah-based party called Sabah People’s Front (SPF).

And it is not only the public who are talking about it but politicians, too.

“For one year, psychologically, Lajim has been ready to leave Umno,” a Sabah-based Opposition party president told me while he was with several of his supporters at a coffeeshop near Kota Kinabalu.

The faces of his supporters lit up. Like multi-level marketing downliners, their political optimism needs to be boosted constantly.

At a private event, a Barisan political party president asked me rhetorically: “Do you think Lajim will do it?”

Another Opposition party leader, whom I spoke to in his office in Kota Kinabalu, said he gave a 20% probability that Lajim would leave Umno to lead an Opposition party.

On record, Lajim, one of the first Parti Bersatu Sabah assemblymen to ditch the party in 1994, causing its Sabah government to collapse, is keeping mum about his political future.

I called him on Friday and the politician, who was then in Kuala Lumpur, said: “Let’s not talk about that matter.”

Since I could not get a denial or a confirmation from the Umno warlord from Beaufort, I decided to meet the man who is supposed to “sell” his party to Lajim.

“What do you mean when you say that the talk is I want to sell my party?” asked SPF president Berman Angkap at a hotel coffee house in Kota Kinabalu.

The virtually unknown 54-year-old politician was holding court with three of his Supreme Council members.

On Aug 9, 2000, Berman became acting president of Bersekutu, a mosquito party until it was taken over by former Sabah chief minister Tan Sri Harris Salleh as his comeback vehicle in the 1999 Sabah polls.

In December 2010, Bersekutu, which had never won a seat, changed its name to SPF because, according to Berman, it was an “old name” and it had been led by many presidents.

“Is there a regulation that allows a party to be bought?” Berman asked in Malay. “We will go to jail if we sell the party.”

His party leaders nodded their heads in unison. And their eyes gleamed whenever I used the word “buy”.

“I am number 3 in this party. Number 2 is the Supreme Council members and Number 1 is the delegates,” continued the Rungus politician.

“Based on our constitution, we have to call for an EGM before we can have a transition of power. And we need two-thirds of the 350-odd delegates to agree to the move.

“It is not a simple matter of me handing the party to another person.”

This is not the first time that talk had surfaced that Berman would give up his party. It happened prior to the 2004 and 2008 general elections. But the wooing never materialised into a “marriage”.

“I did not take the speculation that certain politicians wanted to take over my party as serious as I knew that they were not serious about it,” he said of his 2004 and 2008 experiences.

Asked about Lajim, Berman said: “What I read in the newspapers is that there is a suspicion that he is going to join our party. But until now I’ve not seen his application.

“And, if I am not mistaken, he is still an Umno Supreme Council member and a Deputy Minister. So how can he be with us?” he asked rather sarcastically.

However, Berman admitted that he had met Lajim twice last year, but during their encounters, they spoke only about Sabah politics.

“But he is a man with a position, title and big name. I don’t think he would simply say: ‘Berman, I want to take over your party’.”

I asked whether Datuk Dr Jeffery Kitingan had approached him with regards to taking over SPF. He said he had met the Opposition politician but they only spoke about Dr Jeffery’s pet project – United Borneo Front.

But Dr Jeffery’s right-hand man swears that the maverick politician had sent someone to negotiate with Berman, but the asking price was too high.

“Will you be SPF president when General Election 13 is called?” I asked Berman.

He replied: “Today I am still the president of SPF, but I don’t know tomorrow because it is not me who will make that decision.”