Will the tiger be tamed or entertained?

PAYAU sama payau lawan, harimau gembira (when the deer fight each other, the tiger will be happy). That’s the political scenario in Sabah.

The Opposition alliances – Pakatan Harapan/Parti Warisan Sabah and the United Sabah Alliance (USA) – are at each other’s throat, while Barisan Nasional is happily watching the fight.

Warisan, led by former Umno vice-president Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal, has an electoral pact with PKR and DAP, both key components of Pakatan.

The USA coalition consists of Sabah STAR (led by Datuk Dr Jeffrey Kitingan), Sabah Progressive Party led by Datuk Yong Teck Lee, Parti Harapan Rakyat Sabah led by Datuk Lajim Ukin and Parti Perpaduan Rakyat Sabah.

When the payau fight each other, the Opposition votes will be split and Barisan is likely to win.

Take the GE13 results. Barisan technically “lost” four parliamentary seats – Kota Marudu, Keningau, Tenom and Pensiangan. This is based on the votes for each of the ruling coalition’s candidates versus the total votes that went to the other candidates for the respective seats.

In Kota Marudu, PBS deputy president Datuk Seri Dr Maximus Ongkili received 15,168 votes and won by an 842 majority. But his votes are fewer than the combined votes of his opponents – Maijol Mahap of PKR (14,326 votes), Majamis Timbong of STAR (2,228) and Yuntau Kolod of SAPP (444). In that sense, the Energy, Green Technology and Water Minister had lost.

The three payau – PKR, STAR and SAPP – could not reach an electoral pact to fight Barisan in GE13. If there had been straight fights in the four parliamentary seats, Dr Ongkili, PBS president Tan Sri Joseph Pairin Kitingan (Keningau), Umno’s Datuk Raime Unggi (Tenom) and PBRS president Tan Sri Joseph Kurup (Pensiangan) might have lost, judging from the total votes for the Opposition candidates.

Barisan almost lost in at least two other parliamentary seats. In Beaufort, Lajim lost to Umno’s Datuk Azizah Mohd Dun by a slim 263 votes. If STAR had not fielded a candidate (who received 409 votes), Lajim might have retained his seat. In Ranau, Datuk Ewon Ebin of Upko nearly lost if you take into account the total Opposition votes.

In GE13, the Opposition won three parliamentary seats. DAP got Kota Kinabalu and Sandakan, and PKR got Penampang. If you add these to the six seats that the Opposition might have won if the payau had not fought each other, Barisan might have lost nine out of the 25 Sabah parliamentary seats.

This scenario will likely repeat in GE14. In GE13, the opposition parties were their own worst enemies. In GE14, it would be worse. Most of the Opposition’s guns are aimed at each other instead of Barisan.

As you are reading this, most probably a STAR supporter is fighting on WhatsApp with a Warisan supporter on whether Shafie’s party is a lanun party. On Facebook, a DAP supporter would be ridiculing SAPP for getting an egg (zero) in GE13.

In a coffee shop somewhere, a Harapan Rakyat supporter would make fun of a PKR supporter because the party’s YBs had become political frogs.

(After GE13, six PKR YBs and three DAP YBs quit the party. If you included Umno YBs, in total there were 11 Sabah YBs who left the parties for whom they stood as candidates.)

When I ask politicians, political analysts and men on the street about which party they think will win in GE14, some attach a caveat to their predictions.

“As long as there’s no straight fight, Barisan can win (whichever seat is being discussed),” a politician told me in Tenom.

From the Sabah results of GE13, in which the Opposition could have potentially won more parliamentary and state seats, Sabah is not Barisan’s fixed deposit, unlike Sarawak.

My state is arguably the most politically volatile in Malaysia. The political situation in Sabah is more fluid than in Kedah, Selangor, Johor and Terengganu. In these peninsular states, the allegiances are fixed, whereas in Sabah, a block of politicians can jump at the snap of a finger (belonging to someone rich and powerful).

On paper, half of Sabah’s 25 parliamentary seats are black for Barisan. But Barisan is in the process of turning them grey or white. After this process, Barisan will have between four and six black seats.

(In political intelligence lingo, black means seats that Barisan will lose, grey is for seats that can go either way, and white means Barisan will win the seat.)

How is it done? Multi-cornered fights.

In some seats, it is a matter of changing an unpopular MP who is perceived to have done nothing for several terms. What Barisan needs to do is field a dynamic and popular new face.

In other seats, especially in the east coast of Sabah, there is ... I don’t have the right word for it, so I’ll use “magic”. Barisan has the ability to turn black seats to white seats.

There’s also carpet bombing (a Sabah term that means “bombing” voters with money). But, as a politician from the Berjaya era (1976 to 1985) warned me: “It sometimes doesn’t work.”

He said: “Berjaya thought it would win in 1985 against PBS. The people were wearing Berjaya T-shirts and carrying the party flag. But the moment they were about to vote, they took off the T-shirts and threw away the flags.”

A few weeks ago, another payau coalition was formed. Parti Anak Negeri and Parti Cinta Sabah combined to form an Opposition alliance. When payau and payau and payau fight, Barisan politicians will pass the popcorn among themselves and happily watch.

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