Rahezzal Shah, who lectures political science at UITM Sabah, said it was not easy to explain why so many candidates from 16 known and unknown parties as well as Independents joined the contest to win one of the 73 state seats.
“One way of explaining why there are so many candidates is that most people are tired of the existing dominant parties.
“But that alone is insufficient to explain why it is so crowded. Which brings us to the STAR effect,” observed Rahezzal.
The STAR effect meant that many were hoping to be “kingmakers” like Sabah STAR, the party which won two state seats, making it the key player in the formation of the state government after Barisan Nasional and Warisan Plus won 29 seats each in the 60-seat state assembly in GE14, he said.
“After the 2018 elections – more specifically, after the hung assembly – it’s quite clear that the days when one party had clear dominance has come to an end.
“With just two seats, STAR became kingmaker in 2018,” he said.
STAR, led by Datuk Dr Jeffrey Kitingan, supported Barisan’s Tan Sri Musa Aman.
But the coalition government lasted two days following defections of six Umno and Upko assemblymen.
The state election this time around has 73 seats with the addition of 13 new constituencies.
Rahezzal believes that most of the little-known political parties, particularly its key leaders, are hoping to win a few seats so as to be at the negotiating table in the event of a hung assembly on Sept 26.
“In this election, the likelihood of hung state assembly is quite high.
“Even though some opposition parties have formed alliances and Warisan and its allies, there is no guarantee these alliances will remain intact after the results are announced.
“This is why smaller parties, dormant for so many years, are now trying their luck in hopes that they might win one or two seats, as a single-seat can help an alliance get the majority,” he added.
Rahezzal said that there was no other realistic way to explain why there were so many parties and candidates in the race this time round.
Universiti Malaya political analyst Dr Awang Azman Awang Pawi said a large number of candidates in the state election showed that Sabahans were brave in celebrating diverse voices in politics.
“This should be celebrated in Sabahan democracy,” he said.
But the real fight was still between Gerakan Rakyat Sabah (consisting of Barisan Nasional, Perikatan Nasional and PBS) against the Warisan Plus-led state government, he said.
Warisan Plus is contesting all 73 seats – with Warisan contesting 46 seats, Upko (12), DAP and PKR (seven each) and Amanah (one) as the coalition hopes to strengthen its hold on the state government after it collapsed in late July following defections of assemblymen who teamed up with Musa.
The opposition coalition looks messy after nominations closed with Sabah Barisan (Umno, Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah (PBRS) and MCA) finding themselves in “friendly” contests with Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) and Perikatan’s STAR.
But there was no overlap for seats between Barisan and Perikatan’s Bersatu and Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP).
The surprise for observers came from Parti Cinta Sabah, led by former foreign minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman, which fielded candidates in 73 seats, becoming the party with the most number of candidates.
Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) candidates saw its former leader Tan Sri Chong Kah Kiat making a comeback by contesting the Inanam seat, which is among the 46 seats in which the party fielded candidates.
Also making a comeback was former Dewan Rakyat speaker Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia, who has become the de facto leader of Usno and is contesting in the new seat of Pintasan.
“I am not with any other party, I am the voice for Sabah,” he said.
Other little-known parties and 54 independents are also in the race.