GRS’ inclusion in unity government triggers confusion among Sabah’s political circle

KOTA KINABALU: Confusion reigns in Sabah politics after Gabungan Rakyat Sabah (GRS) decided to be part of the unity government led by Prime Minister and Pakatan Harapan chairman Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

Pakatan, comprising Upko, DAP, PKR and Amanah as well as Parti Warisan Sabah are part of the Opposition at the state level, which is ruled by the GRS-Barisan Nasional coalitions.

In a statement on Friday (Nov 25), Upko president-elect Datuk Ewon Benedick said Pakatan’s five state elected representatives, including himself as the Kadamaian assemblyman, gave their support and cooperation to GRS chairman Datuk Seri Hajiji Noor to remain as Chief Minister until the current government’s five-year term ends in 2025.

Benedick, who is also Penampang MP, said he and the other four assemblymen - Luyang rep Phoong Jin Zhe, Jannie Lasimbang (Kapayan), Pito Galim (Inanam) and Tan Lee Fatt (Likas) - conveyed this to Hajiji during a courtesy call to the Chief Minister after the tabling of the 2023 Sabah Budget on Friday.

“The Sabah Pakatan assemblymen welcome GRS’ support in the federal unity government as announced by the Prime Minister previously.

“The assemblymen also gave their support to Hajiji and will work with the state government to ensure the development agenda and struggle on state rights can be realised together,” he said.

However, when met by reporters after the tabling of the budget on Friday, Phoong, who is Sabah DAP secretary, admitted the political situation in the state was not that clear now.

“Although we (Pakatan) are still part of the Opposition at the state level, we are also part of the ruling government at the federal level. I think we have to understand the new norm of Sabah politics,” he said.

He added: “The reason why I cannot give a confirmation is because we just heard that Anwar said GRS will join the unity government, so, we don’t know what it will look like.

“If GRS is part of the unity govt at the federal level, should the state level also foresee minor changes? We don’t know.

“But as far as DAP is concerned, we are still playing the role of Opposition in Sabah. I think that’s quite clear until there is some discussion (over the political stand) but as of now, we don’t have any discussion yet,” Phoong said.

He, however, pointed out that the GRS-Barisan coalition should continue ruling the state, as it was what the people mandated in the 2020 snap polls.

“So, it’s very difficult for us to do another round of numbers or SD (statutory declaration) game, enough of that. Since we are part of the ruling (federal) government, we demand fair and democratic treatment at the state level (too),” he said.

In another doorstep interview on Friday, Warisan president Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal also said there was “some conflict” at the state level after GRS’ move to support the unity government.

The former Sabah chief minister said this was because of Perikatan Nasional chairman Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s announcement that they will play the Opposition role, providing checks and balances for the Pakatan-led unity government.

“We still (see) some conflict is there because of the statement made by Muhyiddin being the president of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu).

“And here we are, Hajiji is the Sabah Bersatu chief. So, it’s a bit (confusing),” said the Semporna MP, adding he was unsure where GRS stood.

Shafie said, however, Warisan welcomed any support for the unity government as it would ensure political stability in the country.

Besides Sabah Bersatu, GRS also comprises Parti Bersatu Sabah, the United Sabah National Organisation (Usno) as well as Sabah STAR and Sabah Progressive Party, both of which were also components of Perikatan.

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