KOTA KINABALU: Sabah is likely to have a crowded field of candidates in the upcoming state elections, which should be held by the end of September.
At least a dozen parties could be in the fray for the 73 seats up for grabs during the election, which must be held within 60 days from the dissolution of the state assembly on July 30.
It is yet to be seen if the main – but loose – Sabah Barisan Nasional coalition that includes Sabah Umno, Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah (PBRS) and Sabah MCA are able to come together as a united front with other allies.
The other "partners" of the coalition include Sabah Bersatu, Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS), Sabah STAR and Sabah PAS who have yet to agree on a framework of cooperation for seat-sharing as well as the symbol to be used.
Observers note that Sabah Barisan, which is led by Datuk Bung Moktar Radin, is keen to continue using the Barisan symbol and PBS, which is led by Datuk Seri Maximus Ongkili, would want to contest using its "handshake" symbol.
Though discussions are still going on, sources say that it is unlikely that there will be agreement on the use of a single symbol in the coming state elections.
Sabah STAR president Datuk Dr Jeffrey Kitingan said; "We (Sabah STAR) don't want to make a big 'hoo-hah' over the seats, but we are working on a realistic target as we are not alone.
"We need to pool our strengths and resources to win the election and form the next government.
"We will let you know what common symbol we will use for the group because it has to be 'A vs B' to the public (voters)," he added.
The Perikatan Nasional-aligned parties are expected to be a major force against the incumbent "Warisan Plus" coalition of caretaker Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal.
Also emerging is a third political force and former political heavyweights planning to make a comeback via various local parties not keen to align themselves with national parties.
Already in the battlefield is former foreign minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman, now president of Parti Cinta Sabah, who is also looking at contesting all seats while forging a working relationship with other local parties.
Speculation is rife that former Dewan Rakyat Speaker Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia is taking over Parti Usno in a planned political comeback. However, he has so far declined to confirm nor deny the talk.
Former Sabah Barisan component Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is also planning to contest between 25 and 40 state seats that might see the return of its former strongman Tan Sri Chong Kah Kiat, according to party sources.
Chong, the former chief minister from 2001 to 2003, is speculated to be eyeing a state seat in the Kota Kinabalu area, but he too has yet to comment on the speculation.
Another heavyweight who is yet to give any indication is partyless former chief minister and federal minister Datuk Seri Mohd Salleh Tun Said, whose application to rejoin Umno has not been accepted.
Other parties likely to be in the fray are Sabah Progressive Party, led by another former chief minister Datuk Yong Teck Lee, Parti Anak Negeri led by Datuk Henrynus Amin and also Parti Gagasan Rakyat Sabah.
Political observers also expect independents to make a bid once the election date is set.
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