Defections, u-turns and pre-emptions, oh my!

  • It's Just Politics
  • Sunday, 26 Jul 2020

Hanging in there: Shafie at a campaign stop in the run-up to the Kimanis by-election in January. Amidst talk of defecting assemblymen and money politics, Sabah’s Chief Minister seems unfazed. — ZULAZHAR SHEBLEE/The Star

In Sabah politics, what goes around comes around.

“X HAS signed SD (a statutory declaration) supporting Perikatan Nasional in Sabah. That’s 31 SDs. We just need two more to bring down the Sabah government, ” a political operative from Sabah told me.

On July 15, during a chat at a mamak shop in Kuala Lumpur, the operative reaffirmed what he had said a few days ago, that X was in town to sign an SD in front of the mastermind behind the move to oust Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal.

After a lull of about a month, the talk that the Sabah government will fall is trending again.

The expected further switch didn’t materialise after two government YBs – Sugut assemblyman Datuk James Ratib and Kuala Penyu assemblyman Datuk Limus Jury – quit Upko to become pro Perikatan independents on June 15.

“It is taking a long time because it is a frugal campaign to persuade them. They are promised development funds for their constituencies if they switch. And those who don’t want to switch are told they can rot with Shafie when they are in opposition, ” the operative said.

On Monday, he called me and excitedly said: “We’ve got the numbers. We’ve got 35 SDs.”

The numbers game in Sabah goes like is: There are 65 seats in the state assembly. The Parti Warisan Sabah/Pakatan Harapan/Upko government has 45 assemblymen. The state opposition has 20 assemblymen. Perikatan Nasional needs 33 assemblymen to form a simple majority government.

Most of the supposed defectors are Barisan Nasional alumni (assemblymen who won on the Barisan ticket but defected to the Sabah government). There are also ori (original) Warisan (assemblymen who won on the Warisan ticket), DAP, PKR and Upko who signed SDs.

So, with 35 SDs, why didn’t the Sabah government fall on Wednesday? Why did Tan Sri Musa Aman fail to get himself sworn in as chief minister?

“The fall was supposed to move smoothly and quietly. But people started to talk about a change of government. Shafie’s people struck back to stifle the operation. They pre-empted the move. They managed to intercept at least three YBs and got them to change their mind, ” the political operative said.

Now, according to various Sabah opposition sources, Perikatan has 32 SDs after the three assemblymen went “missing”. It needs one more to force the collapse of the state government.

“One is not enough. We need more. We need a comfortable buffer if not our majority is too thin, ” said the operative.

However, various sources in the Sabah government said many of those who signed the SDs now have cold feet. They have retracted their support for Perikatan.

“Shafie is brilliant. He managed to convince them to make a U-turn. Now it will be difficult to get the numbers, ” a politician with the Sabah government told me.

In the political drama this past week’s in my home state, Sabah government politicians alleged that the opposition was buying YBs. The Sabah government is winning the perception game that their assemblymen are not frogs to be bought and sold.

“There is a YB who said he was not for sale. He approached us and offered himself for sale. But his demand was too high. He wanted the DCM (deputy chief minister) post, ” the political operative said.

There were also government assemblymen who claimed they were offered RM50mil to RM32mil to jump.

“If that’s really the amount, even Shafie would jump, ” the political operative joked, underlining the absurdity of the claim.

He said the state opposition is not good at playing the victim in the media and on social media. The two masterminds of the operation to bring down the Sabah government are politicians who don’t care about publicity, he said.

“If I were them, I would tell the media that some of the YBs who signed the SDs were bought back and some were ‘held against their will’.”

It is somewhat ironical that the Warisan/Pakatan/Upko government which was formed by defections is crying foul that there is an attempt to topple them through... defections. It lost the moral high ground as the opposition is merely doing to the government what the government did in 2018.

After GE14, the result was Barisan 29, Warisan/Pakatan 29 and Sabah STAR two. Datuk Dr Jeffrey Kitingan, the president of STAR which contested against Barisan and Warisan/Pakatan, threw his support behind Barisan. So Musa was sworn in as chief minister, a post he had held for 15 years at that point.

However, the Musa government collapsed two days later. Four Umno and two Upko assemblymen ditched Barisan to support Shafie. Some of them were rewarded with state minister posts.

Subsequently, more Barisan assemblymen jumped to Warisan, which is headed by Shafie, and to Upko. In a strange move, Kuamut assemblyman Datuk Masiung Banah left Upko to join his party’s partner in the Sabah government, Warisan. Shafie also appointed five nominated assemblymen.

Did these assemblymen jump because – to use their favourite clichéd reason – they wanted to bring development to their constituency and only the government can make that happen? Or did they jump because they were bought?

Did the politicians now screaming about people “buying” assemblymen in an attempt to bring down Shafie’s government scream about “buying” when the Musa government collapsed?

In Sabah politics, what goes around comes around.

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