KOTA KINABALU: Sabah is likely to see a crowded opposition field as it heads into snap polls expected to be held by the end of September.
At least a dozen parties might be in the fray for the 73 seats up for grabs during the election, which must be held within 60 days from the July 30 dissolution of the state legislative assembly.
It remains to be seen whether the main but loose coalition of opposition parties such as Sabah Barisan Nasional that includes Sabah Umno, Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah and Sabah MCA can present themselves as “one package” with other allies.
The other “partners” of the coalition are Sabah Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, Parti Bersatu Sabah, Sabah STAR and Sabah PAS, which have yet to agree on a framework of cooperation in seat sharing as well as a common symbol to be used.
Observers note that Sabah Barisan, led by Datuk Bung Moktar Radin, is keen to continue using the Barisan symbol while PBS, led by Datuk Seri Maximus Ongkili, wants to contest with the party’s “handshake” sign.
Though private and unofficial discussions are ongoing between the parties, sources say it is unlikely that all will agree to the use of a single symbol.
Sabah STAR president Datuk Dr Jeffrey Kitingan said: “We don’t want to make a big hoo-ha about the seats but we are working on a realistic target, considering that 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 as it has to be A vs B to the public.”
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 names of former political heavyweights planning to make a comeback via various local-based parties that are not keen to align themselves with national parties.
Already in the battlefield is former foreign minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman, who is now president of Parti Cinta Sabah and looking at contesting all seats while forging a working relationship with other local-based parties.
Speculation is rife that former Dewan Rakyat Speaker Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia is taking over Usno in a planned political comeback, but he has so far declined to confirm or deny the political talk.
Former Sabah Barisan component Liberal Democratic Party is also planning to contest between 25 and 40 seats that might see the return of its former strongman Tan Sri Chong Kah Kiat, according to party sources.
Chong, a former chief minister (2001-03), is widely 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 has yet to give an indication of his next move is partyless former chief minister and federal minister Datuk Seri Salleh Said Keruak, whose application to rejoin Umno has not been accepted.
Other parties likely to throw their hat into the ring 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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