Last Sunday, the new Semporna Umno division office was officially launched by Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who is also Umno vice-president.
It was just a short programme, one of many that were lined up during his two-day visit to Sabah. However, it was an indication that things were going well for the party in Semporna, a district known to be the stronghold of Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal, who had switched sides to the opposition after leaving Umno in July last year.
The Semporna member of parliament, who is now president of Parti Warisan Sabah (Warisan), a political vehicle he had set up, has turned the prior Umno office near Semporna town into Warisan’s premises. Sulabayan assemblyman Datuk Jaujan Sambakong had also quit Umno to join Shafie. Similarly, former Sabah PKR chief Datuk Seri Lajim Ukin had turned the old Sabah PKR headquarters in Kota Kinabalu into the headquarters for his new party, Parti Harapan Rakyat Sabah.
Umno Semporna acting chief Datuk Nasir Sakaran, who took over leading the division from Shafie, said the party division had operated without a proper office for nearly 10 months after the previous premises was locked.
Files and important documents were also not available to use as references, causing them to get updates of membership information from the party’s headquarters.
“We actually had to start from scratch as we had no access… our materials were not handed over, besides having to reorganise the committee members as we received instructions from central and state Umno to win back the confidence of supporters in Semporna.
“While the challenges were tough, we were able to recover the party’s honour with the cooperation of various wings that remained loyal,” said Nasir, who is Senallang assemblyman. He said of the 481 branches in Semporna, 448 had remained intact.
“That meant only 33 branch chiefs joined Warisan, but yet, we have members from these branches who came forward and offered to take over leadership from those who left.
“So, we will continue our hard work to ensure Umno stays strong here and we will defend all three state seats (Senallang, Bugaya and Sulabayan) and the Semporna parliamentary seat.”
Zahid, when officiating the new premises, stressed that the strength of a party did not lie on one individual, and, similarly, Umno Semporna is not reliant on Shafie.
“If there are leaders who want to leave, let them. But what is important is our soul as Umno members remain steadfast.
“This is because Umno belongs to the people, and when given the responsibility, we execute them.
“With that in mind, avoid being a backstabber of Umno,” he said to about a thousand supporters.
But, it was not just that the new office was set up; Zahid’s visit here also saw about 1,000 former supporters of BN returning to the coalition.
At the sidelines of the event, about 500 PKR members and 500 Warisan members in Semporna handed over their membership forms to Umno.
Zahid had made an open invitation to disgruntled or misled members to return to BN, saying that the “door is wide open” for them.
He cautioned that supporting the opposition would cause political instability in Sabah, urging the people to look at the past political history in the state.
He said all members and supporters must brace themselves for political trials and tribulations, as certain quarters were mocking and putting up obstacles for the BN-led government.
“We have no agenda other than to defend the rakyat. Despite the opposition’s attempts to add fuel to the fire, we are not going to be defensive. You know us. We are sincere in our efforts. The reality is that people want the government to continue.”