Experts foresee tight race between Warisan Plus and GRS

  • Nation
  • Friday, 25 Sep 2020

Hard at work: Election Commission staff making preparations in a vote-tallying station at Sabah Culture Centre in Penampang. — ZULAZHAR SHEBLEE/The Star

KOTA KINABALU: The contest between Warisan Plus and Gabungan Rakyat Sabah (GRS) in the Sabah polls tomorrow is thisclose.

It is a tight race.

The results could favour either Warisan Plus – comprising Parti Warisan Sabah, DAP, PKR, Amanah and Upko – or GRS, which is a coalition of Barisan Nasional, Perikatan Nasional and Parti Bersatu Sabah.

There are about 35 “fifty-fifty” seats out of the 73 up for grabs in the state assembly.

“So far, I don’t see a clear winner as to any party winning by a landslide.

“It is a photo finish right to the end, which is why I have asked all our machinery to work extra hard to win this crucial election, ” said Sabah Umno leader Datuk Seri Abdul Rahman Dahlan.

For the first time, smaller parties and even independents, according to the former Kota Belud MP, would probably play a crucial role in determining who would form the Sabah government.

After two weeks of heavy and rough campaigning by all the parties and considering the nature and manner of how the polls take place, Universiti Malaysia Sabah senior lecturer Dr Zaini Othman said it looked like no parties had taken the driver’s seat.

“So, from my observation, the third force will be the deciding factor in who or which parties will form the next state government, ” he said.

Warisan president and caretaker chief minister Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal said he did not want to be complacent.

“We will continue working hard until polling day even though we heard on the ground that our chances are good, ” he said.

Pollsters have conceded that this is a difficult election to forecast as there are no straight fights.

There are 26 six-cornered contests, 15 five-cornered fights and 13 seven-cornered tussles.

Take the Bengkoka seat for an example. It has 11 candidates, the most in the polls.

Independent contender Maklin Masiau has an even chance of winning against equally popular politicians from Parti Cinta Sabah, Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS), Upko, Usno, Barisan, smaller parties and party-less candidates.Warisan Plus is on the defence with the opposition attacking it with issues such as PTI (“pendatang tanpa izin” or illegal immigrants) and Sempornisation (the elevation of civil servants from Semporna, where Shafie is the MP and assemblyman). The party has vehemently denied these allegations.

Political analysts see Warisan Plus as having the edge over GRS as it is a more united alliance with hardly any “langgar” (overlapping of seats).

Meanwhile, GRS parties are clashing within 17 seats and this will split the opposition votes.

Take, for example, Paginatan, which is seeing a nine-cornered fight. GRS parties – Umno, Sabah STAR and PBS – are contesting against each other and Upko, which is with Warisan Plus, could slip through to win the seat in the Ranau parliamentary constituency.

GRS is also facing independents who claim to be Perikatan-friendly and are linked to former Sabah chief minister Tan Sri Musa Aman. Some of these independents are incumbent assemblymen who have a good chance of retaining their seats.

For instance, the Tempasuk seat’s incumbent Datuk Musbah Jamli won it under Umno and jumped to Warisan and then to Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia.

Musbah is now contesting under the tractor symbol as an independent facing Umno and PKR in the six-cornered fight.

Ilham Centre executive director Hisommudin Bakar points out that in rural Sabah, personality matters and not issues and party symbol.

“Rural voters would pick the candidate and not the party. In a confusing multi-cornered fight, they will pick a candidate with whom they are familiar and comfortable, and who is accessible to them, ” he said.

Unlike Warisan Plus, which has named Shafie as its choice to be chief minister, GRS has none.

It is still a toss-up between Sabah Bersatu chief Datuk Seri Hajiji Noor and Sabah Umno chief Datuk Seri Bung Moktar Radin.

In remote areas, money, specifically “duit tambang” (money for transporting voters to stations), could make or break a candidate.

“It would cost about RM35 one way for a voter to go by boat or 4WD to a polling station.

“That is RM70 in expenses for a villager, who earns about RM300 a month, to go to vote, ” said a former assemblyman from the interior of Sabah.

“If the candidate does not provide transport for voters, they will not be able to go out to vote for him.

“The candidate who doesn’t have a transport budget can ‘hanyut’ (meaning the chances of that politician have drifted).”

On Wednesday, PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim dropped a bombshell when he claimed that he had the numbers to form the Federal Government.

Will his announcement have an aftershock in the Sabah polls?

No, said Zaini, arguing that Sabah voters had their specific reference for the state polls.

“Sabah polls 2020 is very much centred on specific local dynamics. Every state seat has its own local dynamic, ” he said.

But Tony Paridi Bagang, a political analyst at Universiti Teknologi Mara in Sabah, contended that Anwar’s announcement could affect voting patterns in Sabah.

He said it would help fence-sitters make up their minds.

“They are most likely to know now who their votes will go to and won’t waste any more time thinking about their choices, ” he said.

But he cautioned that it was still too early to tell whether there would be a swing of support in favour of Anwar and PKR/Pakatan Harapan as voters were still waiting for the actual outcome.

Covid-19 is spreading in Sabah and political analyst Zaini believed this would have an impact on voter turnout. He said it would be between 65% and 70%, which was lower than the 77.5% turnout in GE14.

When the votes are counted tomorrow night, the rakyat might discover that the wakil rakyat (assemblymen) from small parties or even those who are party-less, could determine who rules Sabah.

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