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Saturday, October 24, 2020

The ghost of 1994 haunts Lajim Ukin

Former bellhop is scared of his own shadow

Mention Lajim Ukin and he takes you back to 1994. That was the year when he defected from the opposition Parti Bersatu Sabah which won the Sabah election by a razor-thin two-seat margin but was denied the government. His action opened a floodgate of defections from PBS to the nationally ruling Barisan Nasional coalition. After 18 years, that has remained Lajim’s best achievement in politics. But the ghost of 1994 has never deserted him. Now as he chases shadows, the federal lawmaker of Beaufort is afraid of his own.

Perhaps the 57-year-old Lajim has seen the writing on the wall. So he has made a few pre-emptive moves: he quits as the head of the Kerambai Kebatu branch of the United Malays National Organisation (Umno) and announces that he would not be defending his Beaufort division chief post and says that he may not even defend his parliamentary seat. He fears that the BN leadership may not allow him to do so.

But is Lajim over-reacting? Chief Minister Musa Aman, who heads Umno and the BN in Sabah, has never said or dropped hints that Lajim would be sidelined. Neither has Najib Razak, the prime minister who heads the 13-member coalition. He makes the final decision.

In picking a quarrel with his boss in public, Lajim has shown his weakness and a disposition to megalomania. He wants the prime minister to intervene in Sabah’s affairs and he makes himself equal to former Malaysian prime ministers: Mahathir Mohamad and Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. Lajim says he would be an ordinary member of Umno just like them and brushes off talks that he would join Anwar Ibrahim’s opposition Parti Keadilan Rakyat.

But who is Lajim Ukin? He was a bellhop at Winner Hotel, a two-star hotel in Kota Kinabalu owned by the late Yong Yun, father of Yong Teck Lee who heads the opposition Sabah Progressive Party. Other than being Sabah’s famous party hopper and parliamentarian, Lajim is the deputy federal minister of housing and local government, a junior post. Abdullah made him the deputy transport minister after he won the Beaufort parliamentary seat on his first outing in 2008. And Najib switched Lajim’s posts when he succeeded Abdullah as prime minister the following year. They never made him a full minister.

People close to Lajim say he wants to become Sabah’s chief minister, a post promised him by Anwar who was federal finance minister and deputy prime minister in 1994. It was Anwar who engineered the defections that led to the collapse of the PBS government. Lajim never got it but became a deputy chief minister after retaining his Klias state seat in 1999 on an Umno ticket. – Insight Sabah

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