KOTA KINABALU: For two aides of Kukusan assemblyman Rina Jainal, it had started out as a normal trip to Kota Kinabalu on June 5.
They would always accompany the first-term Parti Warisan representative almost everywhere.
After arriving in Sabah’s capital, they went their separate ways. Then came the shocking news.
Rina had quit Warisan to join mosquito party Parti Harapan Rakyat Sabah (Harapan Rakyat) led by Tan Sri Liew Yun Fah.
The panicky aides quickly informed a senior Tawau Warisan leader that they were not involved in any way and remained loyal to Warisan.
Rina has been in denial for months after her name was among that of several assemblymen widely speculated to be leaving Warisan.
While her eventual move to part ways with Warisan did not come as a shock, her decision to join Harapan Rakyat was.
It remains a puzzle for many political observers in Sabah as state politics has always been unpredictable and Rina, whether she knows it or not, has just started a whole new ball game.
Sabah UiTM political science lecturer Rahezzal Shah theorised that there could be two possibilities why Rina chose to join Harapan Rakyat, which has applied to become a component of Gabungan Rakyat Sabah (GRS).
He pointed out that GRS and even Barisan Nasional could not afford to take elected representatives straight into their ranks now as they would likely face the full wrath of voters for accepting a “katak” (political defector).
“This is especially so in times when the majority is against elected representatives switching parties and also when the anti-hopping law is expected to be tabled in Parliament.
“That is why she opted for Harapan Rakyat, a party that has declared its support for GRS.
“By doing so, it won’t tarnish GRS’ or BN’s image,” he said.
Rahezzal said the other reason why Rina took this route was because Harapan Rakyat managed to convince her to do so as the party knew that having a YB in its ranks would boost its chances of being accepted into GRS.
“Basically, everyone is positioning and realigning themselves in preparation for the next general election which might be held this year.
“Negotiations among opposing parties are going on behind closed doors with the hope of finding the best arrangement that will ensure a winning formula and, for some, their very own survival,” he said.
Oh Ei Sun of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs concurs that having an assemblyman almost certainly makes Harapan Rakyat’s chances of joining GRS brighter.
“When Rina joins a small party and if that party potentially joins GRS, then she and Harapan Rakyat will have more bargaining power as opposed to joining an existing larger party, where you are just one among many assemblymen,” he said.
This, he said, however, begs the question why the United National Sabah Organisation (Usno) which does not have any assemblyman was accepted as a GRS component.
“Well, because Usno, as we know, is a spare tyre.
“It’s there, shall we say, to potentially receive some assemblymen as well, so it has a very special purpose.
“Other than that, those who want to come into GRS must have a bargaining chip on the table and having an assemblyman is such a chip,” Oh said.
Oh was referring to GRS accepting Usno led by Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia on May 9, but kept on hold applications from Parti Kesejahteraan Demokratik Masyarakat (KDM) with two assemblymen led by Datuk Peter Anthony, and two other parties namely Parti Cinta Sabah and Liberal Democratic Party which have no assemblymen.
Initial speculation was that Usno would be a vehicle for Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) Sabah assemblymen to use in the event they needed a fully Sabah-based political party to strengthen the GRS alliance.
Oh summed up the erratic state of politics in Sabah now.
“GRS is now on the verge of doing something big but I don’t know what that ‘big’ actually is,” he said.