One political adventure after another
OPPORTUNISM: Lajim, who never realised his ambition, dreams on in vain
WHO is Datuk Seri Lajim Ukin really, the 61-year-old Bisaya leader, who quit PKR with a dozen party members to form their own party on Sunday?
Their action demolished PKR and sent Pakatan Harapan into a tailspin. However, political insiders were not surprised by the outcome, having expected this move from Lajim ever since he abandoned Umno in 2012 for PKR.
A political insider, who is also a journalist, said: “Before Umno, he abandoned Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) in 1994 when he was the Klias assemblyman. With Lajim, it is one political adventure after another, and this usually happens when a general election is around the corner.
“We have come to expect this kind of frog-jumping from Lajim and likeminded politicians. We are not surprised.
“These people think democracy is a football game and they can jump from one party to another to look for an advantage.”
What is Lajim’s motive and what will happen to his rebellion? Will he succeed in thwarting the state Barisan Nasional with his new political vehicle and besting his arch rival, Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman?
A look at his political career might offer some glimpses. Lajim sees himself as a leader of the Bisaya, an ethnic sub-group with their own culture.
While many are Muslims like Lajim, others are not. They populate the Beaufort district and are settled along Sungai Klias.
I got to know Lajim when I was the Sabah correspondent for a local daily in 1985. He was a jovial chap but politically shrewd, a man always looking out for himself. Jumping from one party to another comes easily to him.
A former political aide said: “He does not think twice because of his links to the Bisaya people, who are his power base. They will follow him.”
Lajim joined politics when he was 30 years old in 1984. As a Berjaya member, he approached then chief minister Datuk Harris Salleh to seek his permission to stand as a candidate in Klias but was rebuffed.
Lajim had been watching the political developments in Sabah closely. He felt that the then new PBS party, led by Tan Sri Joseph Pairin Kitingan, stood a fair chance of besting Berjaya.
He switched to PBS and Pairin picked him to stand in Klias in 1985. Lajim won handsomely.
A former PBS leader said: “Lajim was treated as the golden boy by Pairin, an important Muslim leader and hero of the Bisaya people. He made it with his decision to switch to PBS.
“Pairin needed Muslim leaders in his government and Lajim was there.
“But trouble was not far away because Lajim’s ambition was to be recognised as the leader of Sabah’s Muslim Bumiputeras. If recognised as such, he would be second only to Pairin in Sabah.”
Lajim was made a full minister and dreamt of becoming deputy chief minister, after Pairin.
“But Pairin knew the Bisaya people were a small community. He had another candidate as head of the Muslim Bumiputeras, another golden boy — Datuk Bahrom Abu Bakar Titingan — a leader of the much larger Suluk ethnic sub-group from Tawau,” said the former PBS leader.
The Suluk people were almost all Muslims and the biggest ethnic group. Pairin gave them priority and this angered Lajim.
The Lajim versus Bahrom feud to represent Muslim Bumiputeras in Sabah continued unabated right up to the 1994 state elections, which PBS won narrowly. But after victory, its assemblymen jumped ship, including Lajim, who crossed over to Umno.
The PBS government fell and was replaced by BN.
“Lajim never realised his ambition of becoming head of the Muslim Bumiputeras even during the time when the chief minister’s post was rotated between the Chinese, Kadazans and Muslim Bumiputeras,” said the journalist.
A Suluk leader was preferred over a Bisaya like Tun Sakaran Dandai, Datuk Seri Salleh Said Keruak and Datuk Seri Osu Sukam who all took turns becoming chief ministers. Finally, it fell on Musa.
Lajim was passed over repeatedly and he became a frustrated man. The rotation system ended after Musa came to power in 2003 and this further damaged and dampened Lajim’s ambition.
“Lajim blamed everybody for his loss, including Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, but singled out Musa, who became his sworn political enemy,” the journalist said.
His advancement in Umno, curtailed by his feud with Musa, caused Lajim to jump ship again, embracing PKR in 2012.
The Bisaya people dutifully elected him but by a slimmer 400 votes. Lajim had everything in PKR — being the state assembly’s opposition leader and state PKR chief. He had Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s ears but he still felt he had missed the chance.
Lajim abandoned ship again on Sunday, this time to set up his own party, in alliance with rebels like former Umno vice-president Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal.
Lajim dreams on in vain. His frequent jumping from one party to another has become a trademark for political opportunism.
He may have Klias but he will fail miserably to rally Sabah folk to overthrow BN.