Hajiji in safe position following opposition defections, says political analyst

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Hajiji Noor (pic) is on safe political ground after a strong bid by Sabah Barisan Nasional and Parti Warisan to topple him failed.

Hajiji has since strengthened himself with the takeover of Parti Gagasan Rakyat Sabah (Gagasan Rakyat) with his key political opponents continuing to weaken with the latest three assemblymen defecting to support the Chief Minister on Monday (Feb 6).

Political analyst Tony Pairidi Bagang said that the three Warisan assemblymen quitting to support Hajiji definitely strengthens his position and puts Warisan on the back foot in its attempt to work with Barisan and Parti KDM to change Sabah's political status quo.

"This puts him (Hajiji) in a 'safe' position," he said referring to Hajiji's support climbing to 47 assemblymen in the 79-member Sabah assembly.

However, Bagang said that Sabah's politics is very dynamic and anything could happen in politics especially in the context of Sabah.

"Political rivalry continues to push the state politics to become unstable despite the idea of a 'unity' government at the state level has been mooted," the Sabah UiTM lecturer.

Bagang observes that Hajiji is solidifying his position as Chief Minister by getting as much support from assemblymen as possible while he also wants to strengthen his new political outfit Gagasan Rakyat.

On Monday (Feb 6), Warisan, which won 23 seats in the September 2020 snap state election, lost three more of its assemblymen - Mohammad Mohamarin (Banggi), Ben Chong Chen Bin (Tanjong Kapor) and Norazlinah Arif (Kunak) - who announced they were becoming "independents" friendly to the Chief Minister.

Warisan led by Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal is left with 16 seats in the Sabah assembly with his friendly Sabah Barisan led by Datuk Seri Bung Moktar Radin holding 13 seats and KDM led by Datuk Peter Anthony holding three seats.

"The quitting of three assemblymen definitely gave a significant impact to Warisan. It reduces Warisan seats thus making the party seen as weakening.

"It also invites speculation that Warisan is having an internal rift. If this continues to happen, there is a possibility that Warisan could end up as only an opposition force but hardly able to govern," Bagang observed.

Five Barisan-Umno assemblymen (including one aligned to the party) have also broken ranks in support of Hajiji who survived the Jan 6 political coup with their support together with seven Sabah Pakatan Harapan assemblymen.

Many political observers expect more assemblymen to switch sides in the coming weeks ahead of the state government's plan to table the overdue anti-hopping law during the March sitting of Sabah Assembly.

They expect the three who quit Warisan to join Hajiji's Gagasan Rakyat before the anti-hopping law was tabled.

The three were among six Warisan assemblymen names speculated to leave the party. Prior to Monday's crossover, they had denied such claims and even collectively lodged police reports over such speculations.

The trio said in a joint statement shared in the social media that they were against the continued attempts to destabilise the state government as it was not benefiting Sabah's development plans under the Sabah Maju Jaya roadmap.

In the midst of the crisis, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim flew into the state and proposed for a unity government at the state level as Barisan, Warisan and KDM were part of the national unity government.

Hajiji has since worked with renegades from Barisan in his own unity government at the state level.

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