TAMBUNAN, Sept 20 — He is known as the giant killer and a kingmaker, but this Harvard University graduate knows that he must not take the 16th Sabah state election lightly, especially in defending his Tambunan seat.
Most importantly because Tambunan is one of the 17 seats that see ‘friendly contests’ between Barisan Nasional (BN) and its allies.
Datuk Dr Jeffrey Kitingan gained the giant killer title during the 2018 General Election after beating Huguan Siou or the paramount leader of Kadazandusun community, who is also his elder brother Datuk Seri Joseph Pairin Kitingan, in the state constituency that had been the latter’s stronghold since 1976.
The last general election also saw Jeffrey became the kingmaker when his party, STAR, which won only two seats, joined Barisan Nasional (BN) and paved the way for the coalition to form the state government after BN and Parti Warisan Sabah (Warisan) were tied up with 29-29 seats in the 60-member state assembly.
Fast forward to today, the STAR president is contesting in the state election under the Perikatan Nasional (PN) logo and will face off with the coalition’s ally Sylvernus Bruno of Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS), as well as Damian Richard Marcus Podtung (Parti Cinta Sabah-PCS), Datuk Dr Laurentius Nayan Ambu (UPKO), Nordin Jaini @ Zaini (Parti Gagasan Rakyat Sabah) and singer Jimmy Palikat (Independent).
Like a true politician, Jeffrey did not leave any stone unturned when it comes to meeting with voters in the Kadazandusun Murut majority area.
In fact, he went extra miles in reaching out to the 16,511 voters even if he had to travel in total darkness using dirt road in the interior area.
“At one point, I had to stop the car and wait for a while as there were cows lying in the middle of the dirt road, in the dark,” he said when sharing his experience when campaigning in Kampung Magatang in the rural area near here.
Not resting on its laurels, the federal Deputy Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture had worked hard, day and night, over the past seven days of campaigning and expected to go all out in the last lap next week before polling on Sept 26.
“I believe that I will win in this state election. The warm response and strong support are obvious despite being challenged by our own ally (PBS). It’s a good sign, we’ll see,” he said.
Asking on the sentiment of voters who might choose candidate over party, Jeffrey has his own view.
“The candidate and the party are equally important. The candidate reflects the struggle and the party leadership will translate the struggle into success. If we choose a bad candidate, the party will lose. So, both factors are important,” Jeffrey said.
Meanwhile, Laurentius of UPKO said he was well aware of Jeffrey’s ‘greatness’, but being an underdog in the six-cornered contest did not dampen his spirit to campaign and trying his luck to win the seat and probably become a ‘giant killer’ himself.
“Throughout my campaign, the people’s reaction has been good and we have begun gaining the momentum. With hard work and full support from the top leadership, success will be ours,” he said.
For Jimmy Palikat, who is popular with the song ‘Anak Kampung’, his popularity as a singer had been a great help for him to get the voters’ attention in his campaign to help them live a better life.
“I don’t think about winning or losing. I’m just serious in wanting to help the people. The young people want young horses, not just the old ones. It’s not yet the end of the road, and I will keep on trying,” he said.
According to political analyst Dr Syahruddin Awg Ahmad, Jeffrey is most likely to win the seat, but not with a big vote-majority because of the many parties contesting in the polls.