LATELY I’ve been inundated by this burning question: “What is your prediction on Sabah elections?”
My standard reply has been: “Right now, it’s still iffy because parties and candidates in many constituencies are not known yet as seat negotiations are ongoing.”
There are two weeks to nomination day for the snap state polls fixed on September 26. The negotiations for the 73 state seats have not been finalised for Warisan Plus, the caretaker state government, and Barisan Nasional, Perikatan Nasional and Parti Bersatu Sabah, the main opposition alliance.
Warisan Plus consists of Parti Warisan Sabah, PKR, DAP and Upko while the main opposition alliance includes Barisan (Umno, MCA and Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah), Perikatan Nasional (Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, Sabah STAR and SAPP) and PBS.
Compared to the main opposition alliance, Warisan Plus has a more manageable task in dividing the seats among the four parties, unless PKR throws a spanner in the discussion.
For the opposition alliance, there’s intense competition between Umno and Bersatu to field candidates in the same seat, especially in the Muslim-majority seats. The defection of 16 Umno assemblymen compounds it. Many of these assemblymen have joined Bersatu which didn’t contest in the Sabah state polls in GE14.
If Bersatu insists on keeping the constituencies the 16 assemblymen (assuming most of them joined the party) have won, it would mean that Umno would only contest in two or three seats out of the 17 it got in GE14.
The competition for the Kadazan, Dusun, Murut and Rungus (KDMR) seats, which are seen for the taking of the main opposition alliance, is intense between PBS and STAR. If they can’t agree to a seat allocation formula, these two KDMR-based parties, which are in the Perikatan Nasional government, will contest against each other in certain seats.
PN, BN and PBS have to sober up and understand that their enemy is Warisan Plus and not their partners. If they fight among themselves, they’ll split the opposition votes.
Warisan, which is the backbone of the Warisan Plus government, wants all parties in its coalition to use its sailing ship symbol. However, its coalition partners are resisting.The main opposition alliance will be using three symbols – BN (by Umno, MCA and PBRS), PN (Bersatu, STAR and SAPP) and PBS.
For the Sabah chief minister candidate, Warisan Plus has decided it is Warisan president Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal, who was chief minister from 2018 till dissolution.
It is a big question mark on who the BN/PN/PBS chief minister candidate is.
Will it be former chief minister Tan Sri Musa Aman, who might be an Umno or Bersatu or PN direct candidate? Or Sabah Umno chief Datuk Seri Bung Moktar Radin?
Sabah Bersatu chief Datuk Seri Hajiji Noor? Or Sabah STAR president Datuk Dr Jeffrey Kitingan?
So far, it is unlikely BN/PN/PBS will announce their CM pick. Likely it will be decided on election night by whichever coalition or party that wins the most seats.
Going back to the question, “What is your prediction on Sabah elections?”, when the questioner insists on a prediction, I’ll share with them the feedback I’ve been getting on the ground.
I’m in my home state to get a sense of the political mood of Sabahans. My political tourism journey is a looping 1,300km, nine-day road trip from Kota Kinabalu to Kota Belud to Ranau to Telupid to Lahad Datu to Semporna to Tawau to Nabawan to Keningau to Papar and back to Kota Kinabalu.
Many Sabahans I spoke to have a phobia that the politician they voted for would turn into a frog on election night. “Nanti lompat juga bah tu (Later, they’ll jump), ” they told me.
Depending on which side of the political divide they are from, Sabahans have different criteria on what’s a bad or a good political frog.
Those who favour the Warisan Plus are angry at the government assemblymen who switched sides, forcing Shafie to seek consent from the head of state to dissolve Sabah assembly. In contrast, those who support BN are angry that the Sabah government fell when Warisan Plus accepted frogs in May 2018.
Non-partisan voters prefer a fresh face to be the next Sabah chief minister.
They don’t want Shafie or Musa, who were chief minister for 26 months and 15 years respectively. They also don’t want Sabah Umno chief Bung Moktar who has court cases pending.
Some are partial to Sabah Bersatu chief Datuk Hajiji Noor, who is seen as a Mr Nice Guy. Or to Sabah Bersatu deputy chief Datuk Masidi Manjun, a Dusun (favourable to the KDMR communities) and Muslim (acceptable to the Muslim communities).
For the hardcore Sabah rights supporters, it is Datuk Dr Jeffrey Kitingan. Some prefer Warisan deputy president Datuk Darell Leiking, who is Penampang MP.
In terms of popularity, Warisan is getting less support compared to 2018 when it won 21 out of the 60 state seats.
The euphoria of “tukar” (change) has dampened as the rakyat, rightly or wrongly, judged it on its 26 months performance in government. They feel that their life is iri om iri (Kadazandusun phrase for the same thing).
Also, the Warisan and Pakatan Harapan 2018 boogeymen such as 1MDB and GST (Goods and Services Tax) are no longer relevant.
Some of the rural folks are also happy with the PN government compared to the 22 months of PH. For them, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin is a prime minister who cares as his PN government provides financial aid during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Sabahans are also worried about the economy. They’ll have to decide whether Warisan Plus or BN/PN/PBS alliance can manage the state which is badly hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, especially its tourism industry.
The other big worry is the PTI (pendatang tanpa izin or illegal immigrants) issue. This election is shaping into an Ori (original) Sabahans versus Photocopy (illegal) Sabahans.
“There are more and more of them and they are taking away our economic opportunities, ” a 40-something shopowner told me in the new Lamag state seat in Kinabatangan.
BN/PN/PBS will paint Warisan as a pro-PTI party, which is an allegation Shafie and his multiracial leaders have vehemently denied.
In the Sabah polls, will it be kekal (remain) Warisan Plus or tukar selera (change appetite)? Ask me that question after nomination day.