Hajiji rises to be the Sabah power

KOTA KINABALU: Six weeks ago, Datuk Seri Hajiji Noor (pic) was on the brink of losing his government. His allies had turned against him and his position as Sabah Chief Minister was in question.

Fast forward to today, and the Gabungan Rakyat Sabah (GRS) chairman is sitting pretty at the top, with a comfortable two-thirds majority in the state assembly.

His nemesis, Umno’s Datuk Seri Bung Moktar Radin, who tried to oust him, has instead lost his position as deputy chief minister and Umno itself has returned to the fold.

Others who tried to break away in January, like Warisan and Parti KDM, led by former Warisan vice president Datuk Peter Anthony, are now having a rethink.

Warisan has lost several assemblymen since then while Parti KDM has done a U-turn, now supporting Hajiji.

It has been an incredible turnaround for the Sulaman assemblyman who now has at least 53 of the 79 assemblymen behind him.

“Looking at the numbers, Hajiji’s position has been solidified and this makes his position comfortable and safe now,” said Sabah Universiti Teknologi Mara senior lecturer Tony Paridi Bagang.

Dr Lee Kuok Tiung, of Universiti Malaysia Sabah, concurred. He said Hajiji’s position could be further strengthened with more assemblymen poised to defect from the opposition bench, thanks to the fact that there is no anti-party hopping law in the state.

Dr Lee said the switch-overs could happen because many were unhappy with the bid to seize power in the first place.

“Those who did not agree with the political coup, not only from Umno or Pakatan but also Warisan, have already shown their hand.

“It is just a matter of time before they make their next move,” he said.

Already, eight assemblymen -- four from Sabah Barisan-Umno, one aligned to Sabah Barisan and three from Parti Warisan -- have announced their decision to join Hajiji’s new political vehicle, Parti Gagasan Rakyat Sabah (Gagasan Rakyat).

They are Datuk James Ratib (Sugut), Datuk Jasnih Daya (Pantai Dalit), Datuk Arshad Bistari (Tempasuk) and Datuk Hamid Awang (Balung) from Sabah Barisan; Datuk Dr Yusof Yaacob (Sindumin) whose application to join Sabah Umno was still pending; and Mohammad Mohamarin (Banggi), Norazlinah Arif (Kunak) and Ben Chong Chen Bin (Tanjung Kapar) who left Warisan.

Gagasan Rakyat now has 24 assemblymen under its banner, making Hajiji the leader of the single largest party in the state.

Gagasan Rakyat is among the five parties in the GRS coalition. The others are Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS), Sabah STAR, Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) and the United Sabah National Organisation (Usno).

The GRS coalition itself holds 38 seats in the state assembly, consisting of 24 from Gagasan Rakyat, PBS (7), Sabah STAR (6) and SAPP (1).

Hajiji also has the support of five assemblymen from friendly parties -- comprising three from Parti KDM and one each from Sabah PAS and Parti Harapan Rakyat Sabah -- along with seven from partners Sabah Pakatan Harapan.

Hajiji is also backed by another Sabah Barisan-Umno dissident, Datuk Shahelmey Yahya, who distanced himself from Bung Moktar’s move to sever ties from GRS on Jan 6 which triggered the political crisis in the state.

Shahelmey, the Tanjung Keramat assemblyman and Putatan MP, backed Hajiji in a move that contributed to the failure of the planned coup. Shahelmey was then made Deputy Chief Minister, replacing Bung Moktar.

Four other Sabah Barisan-Umno assemblymen were retained as assistant ministers.

With GRS growing in stature and dominance, Bagang said Sabah Barisan and Warisan could face an uphill task in the next state elections, due to be held in 2025.

“Both (political alliances) now have an opportunity to introduce new leaders. On the other hand, both have to work smart and be politically strategic if they are to retain grassroots supports,” he said.

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Hajiji Noor , Sabah , Chief Minister


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