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Don’t rule out dark horse Shafie Apdal

The former Sabah chief minister may just emerge as the compromise candidate

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For the first time, Malaysia has a chance to create political history by opting for an East Malaysian as Prime Minister, and the most obvious choice would be Shafie Apdal.

Given the opportunity, the Warisan president would not be hesitant to take up the challenge to serve the country.

Sarawak and Sabah have been an integral part of Malaysia since 1963, and it is time we have a prime minister from East Malaysia. Shafie has experience at federal and state levels to take on the mantle of prime minister.

As president of multiracial Warisan, he has the political charisma to bridge the gulf between east and west Malaysians, who are divided not only by the South China Sea but also by culture, ethnicity and religion.

Shafie has the attributes to take on the nation’s top job. Not only is he a former Sabah chief minister, he has also served at the federal level in various ministries, covering unity, culture, arts and heritage; housing and local government; rural and regional development; domestic trade and consumer affairs; and defence.

The Semporna MP is concerned about the current political landscape during these tough and challenging times for the country.  

In the past, politicians were more principled in that they espoused a multicultural and inclusive philosophy as the foundation of our society. But this has become a rarity today, and Shafie believes this is not conducive to nation-building.

Warisan’s ideology is in harmony with Malaysia’s multiracial society: it was on conspicuous display during the Sabah state election in 2020. Billboards appeared around Kota Kinabalu depicting a stylised portrait of Warisan president Shafie Apdal with the theme “In God we trust, unite we must”.

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After the party’s defeat in the polls, Warisan became the largest opposition party in the Sabah. Shafie took on the role of the new leader of the opposition in the state.

On 12 December 2020, Warisan heralded a new era when the party discarded its image as a state-based party and refashioned itself as a national party pursuing national unity as the way forward. The party aims to spread its wings to Peninsular Malaysia, and hopes that East Malaysia will become an integral part of the decision-making process for the country. With this, Parti Warisan Sabah was renamed Parti Warisan Malaysia (Malaysian Heritage Party).

During his stint as Sabah Chief Minister, Shafie Apdal attended non-Muslim religious functions, including the thanksgiving gathering for his Warisan colleague, the late Liew Vui Keong, when he was appointed as a minister in the federal cabinet. Shafie joined in the religious gathering at Liew’s private residence out of respect for Liew.

“There may be some in peninsular Malaysia who do not understand that this is how we live in Sabah. We have been living in harmony despite our different races and religions. It is not a problem for us … not a big deal at all,” then-deputy home minister Azis Jamman Shafie Azis said. The Warisan youth chief added he was also invited to the gathering but was unable to attend due to another engagement.

Shafie was not the only Muslim at the gathering: many party members from various faiths, including Muslims, attended the function.

Shafie may be a dark horse in the race for the PM’s post, but don’t rule him out from reaching the finishing line. He may just emerge as the compromise candidate for parliamentarians on both sides of the political divide.

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Benedict Lopez was director of the Malaysian Investment Development Authority in Stockholm and economics counsellor at the Malaysian embassy there in 2010-2014. He covered all five Nordic countries in the course of his work. A pragmatic optimist and now an Aliran member, he believes Malaysia can provide its people with the same benefits and privileges found in the Nordic countries - not a far-fetched dream but one that he hopes will be realised in his lifetime
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