KOTA KINABALU: The stage is set for keen political battles in Sabah’s west coast and interior areas as the incumbent Warisan Plus parties work towards gaining more ground in the coming state election.
Parti Warisan Sabah, led by eastern leader Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal, is expected to a stiff challenge from a mix of Opposition parties in west coast Sabah as the state goes to the polls likely to be in September following the July 30 legislative assembly dissolution.
Observers expect the caretaker chief minister’s party to further strengthen its position in the east coast where it won 15 of 24 state seats in the May 2018 general election.
But Warisan and its partners Upko, DAP and PKR will be dragged into pitched battles in western Sabah where it has to crack into Sabah Umno/Sabah Bersatu, Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) and Sabah STAR strongholds.
Warisan will have to face off against Sabah Bersatu’s Bajau leader Datuk Hajiji Mohd Noor, Sabah Umno’s entrenched hold among the Muslim bumiputra areas in western Sabah as well as PBS and Sabah STAR’s influence in non-Muslim bumiputra seats.
In 2018, Warisan Plus and Sabah Barisan Nasional won 29 seats each in the 60-member house but shifting political alliances over 72 hours saw Upko moving out of Barisan to help Warisan form the state government.
The Upko shift toppled the 48-hour Sabah Barisan Nasional government of Tan Sri Musa Aman, which initially gained the support of Sabah STAR’s two assemblymen including its president Datuk Dr Jeffrey Kitingan, who is the Deputy Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister in the Perikatan Nasional Federal Government.
This time round, the Sabah assembly has 13 new seats that will see 73 seats up for grabs – with 46 seats in the west coast/interior and the remaining 27 in the east coast.
Both sides are working out seat arrangements for the coming election that sees a large field of Opposition players, who are by and large together but haggling over seat-sharing.
Local political observer Raheezal Shah believes that the battle for Sabah is in the west coast as it is Warisan’s weakest point, especially in the non-Muslim bumiputra areas (ethnic Kadazandusun, Murut and Rungus).
If one follows closely the west coast’s trends, the Muslim bumiputra areas tilt towards the Opposition Sabah Umno, Sabah Bersatu and their alliance partners PBS, Sabah STAR and Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah (PBRS).
“These areas will see Warisan having to fight it out with parties that have their own strengths in the west coast, ” Raheezal said, adding that the seat-sharing arrangements would be key for the Opposition.
“Warisan has difficulty gaining strong support from the Kadazandusun and Murut areas, ” he said, adding that in the last election, it only managed to win three state seats – Moyog (in Penampang), Melalap (Tenom) and Liawan (Keningau).
Raheezal said a key consideration at this point was how many seats Warisan could trust its Kadazandusun ally Upko to take on in the non-Muslim bumiputra areas.
“In seat-sharing arrangements, can they trust Upko with a big chunk of seats and PKR, that would also want a bigger share?” he said, adding that Upko’s decision to leave Barisan in 2018 would continue to haunt the party as PBS would continue to focus its attacks on its move to leave Barisan and align with Warisan.
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