KOTA KINABALU: Sabah heads into its 16th state election with more political drama expected as candidates file their nomination papers today.
With at least a dozen or more parties set to plunge into the arena by way of shaky coalitions and surprise turn-ups – as well as possible turnabouts – a crowded field is expected in nearly all the 73 seats at stake.
The Sept 26 snap election is being called 27 months after the May 2018 polls left Sabah with a hung assembly that bogged down the Warisan Plus government with court battles led by ousted chief minister Tan Sri Musa Aman.
The stage for the snap polls was set with Musa’s failed bid in late July to take back the state government from then chief minister Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal following the crossover of 32 assemblymen.
The governor then dissolved the assembly.
Political pundits are expecting a minimum of four- to six-cornered fights in most seats, while not discounting Independents and disgruntled dropped candidates using little-known parties to turn up and throw in a challenge.
With Independents factored in, this could also lead to nine-cornered fights or even more crowded battlefields, according to observers closely watching the rapid and furious developments that have put Sabah on a political roller coaster ride.
The five-party Warisan Plus alliance led by Shafie is up against the main opposition coalition’s eight parties under Perikatan Nasional, Barisan Nasional and Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS).
While PKR threw a tantrum but pulled back on its demand for seats – ultimately settling for the agreed-to seven seats – it remains a concern for Shafie’s Warisan and its remaining partners Upko, DAP and Amanah as they prepare for the campaign.
Warisan will contest 47 seats, Upko (12 seats), DAP (seven) and Amanah (one) as the coalition that needs a clear and strong mandate for a stable state government as they take on the federal-backed state opposition alliance.
However, though Barisan’s Sabah Umno has no problems with Sabah Bersatu in seat arrangements, all the signs point to Sabah Umno going on a collision course with its “partners” Sabah STAR and PBS in about half a dozen seats, mainly in the non-Muslim bumiputra seats involving the Kadazandusun, Rungus and Murut areas.
Barisan will be contesting 40 seats, Sabah Umno will go for 31, PBRS (five) and MCA (four); while Perikatan is divvied up as follows: Sabah Bersatu (19 seats), Sabah STAR (eight) and SAPP-Sabah Progressive Party (two).
Meanwhile, Perikatan PBS will contest in 15 seats.
Barring any 11th hour deals, at least 11 seats will see direct confrontations between Sabah Umno and PBS or Sabah STAR, or even all three in the fray amid failed seat-sharing negotiations.
Sabah Barisan chief Datuk Bung Moktar Radin has made it clear that “We can have a friendly fight”, while Sabah Bersatu chairman Datuk Seri Hajiji Mohd Noor is hoping for a compromise.
Sabah STAR and PBS were pushing for the national parties to give more seats to local parties, particularly in their traditional non-Muslim bumiputra constituencies, but Bung Moktar did not back down.
Sabah political observers see the strong stand by Sabah Barisan and Bung Moktar as guarding their coalition against possible shadow political plays by Sabah STAR, led by Datuk Dr Jeffrey Kitingan and PBS – he was previously seen working closely with Musa.
Bung Moktar and others, according to observers, might be seeing an unseen “third force” emerging with locally based Perikatan allies that could work closely with Parti Cinta Sabah (PCS), led by former foreign minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman, Musa’s brother.
Anifah’s party has announced that it will be contesting in all 73 seats, which is an increase from the 60-seat state assembly, with the hope of emerging as a force in the state election.
Observers suspect parties that win enough seats in the election could become kingmakers while Sabah Barisan/Umno, which looks comfortable with Sabah Bersatu, is ready to take on the local parties to ensure that it will be on the bargaining table in the event of a hung result.
Most analysts expect the key fights to be between Sabah Barisan, Bersatu, PBS and STAR and Warisan Plus and all the others, including Anifah’s PCS and the Liberal Democratic Party spearheaded by former chief minister Tan Sri Chong Kah Kiat, as spoilers.
Other little-known parties that might turn up on nomination day today are Parti Gagasan Rakyat Sabah (PGRS), Parti Harapan Rakyat Sabah (Harapan Rakyat), Usno and Anak Negeri.
For political analysts, the 14-day campaign leading up to the Sept 26 polls can shape and break many of the contestants, who will be needing well-oiled machinery to get to the finish line in a race that is sure to be nothing but frenzied.
Did you find this article insightful?
100% readers found this article insightful