Sabah’s power grab flashback

  • One Man's Meat
  • Saturday, 12 May 2018

Precarious situation: Musa has been sworn in as the Sabah Chief Minister but there are rumours that several of his assemblymen may jump ship to Warisan.

IT WAS history repeating itself in Sabah.

The political drama in the state, which began playing out soon after the announcement of the GE14 results for the 60 state seats, was reminiscent of the 1994 power grab.

That year, of the 48 state seats, Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) won 25 and Barisan Nasional 23. PBS president Tan Sri Joseph Pairin Kitingan waited for 36 hours outside the Istana Negeri gates to be sworn in as chief minister, a post he had held for nine years.

Finally, he was allowed to be sworn in. But in about a month, his government collapsed after some PBS assemblymen had ditched the party.

Some of the players from that episode 24 years ago are also involved this time. And it is a variation of the 1994 political drama. But the intention is the same – to grab power.

One of the GE14 outcomes was a hung Sabah state assembly. Both Barisan and Parti Warisan Sabah/Pakatan Harapan won 29 seats each, while Sabah STAR had two.

Sabah Barisan is led by Tan Sri Musa Aman, who has been chief minister since 2003. The Warisan/Pakatan Harapan coalition is led by Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal and Sabah STAR is headed by Datuk Dr Jeffrey Kitingan.

With his party’s two seats, Dr Jeffrey has become the kingmaker. The coalition he picked would form the Sabah government.

This time there was no long wait in front of the Istana to get an appointment with the Yang di-Pertua Negri. Instead, Musa was turned away when he tried twice (1.30am and 3pm) on Thursday to get himself sworn in for the most powerful post in the state. The Istana also resisted Shafie’s attempt at 10am to do the same.

At around 11am the same day, Dr Jeffrey was at Shafie’s house in Kota Kinabalu. According to a source, the two leaders were negotiating, but it failed as Dr Jeffrey’s adviser was too clever and too demanding.

Dr Jeffrey then headed to Seri Gaya, the official residence of the Sabah Chief Minister. There, the Tambunan assemblyman and Keningau MP apparently managed to strike a deal and threw his support behind the Musa-led Barisan coalition.

In the meantime, Upko, which is led by Datuk Seri Wilfred Madius Tangau, made a dramatic move. Upko decided to leave Barisan and be part of the Warisan/Pakatan government.

In viraled photographs, Tangau was seen visiting Shafie at the Warisan president’s house. It looked like with Upko’s support and its five assemblymen, Warisan/Pakatan had secured the Sabah government.

But, in a 2pm press conference in Seri Gaya, Musa with all the other 28 assemblymen – including Upko’s – declared he had the majority (31 seats) and he wanted Yang di-Pertua Negri Tun Juhar Mahiruddin to swear him in as Chief Minister.

Tangau claimed that his five Upko assemblymen were “locked at Seri Gaya”.

Rumours were flying on WhatsApp. Sabahans wanted to know who will be their chief minister.

The pro-Warisan/Pakatan Harapan supporters were cursing Dr Jeffrey for supporting Musa. There were also question marks about Upko’s five assemblymen. Naturally, there was talk of money being paid to buy the loyalty of assemblymen.

At around 6.30pm on Thursday, my colleague Muguntan Vanar and I visited Shafie’s house. It was crowded and sombre. The crowd was anticipating Shafie to be sworn in as chief minister.

We had a chat with the chief minister-in-waiting Shafie. He was calm and confident. He said he was not in a rush to be chief minister. And he was waiting to watch Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad being sworn as Prime Minister.

Probably, Shafie knew that sooner or later, the post will fall onto his lap.

Muguntan and I then headed to Seri Gaya. About 500m from the chief minister’s residence, there was a police roadblock.

We had to walk to Seri Gaya. It felt as if I was taking the same steps 24 years ago to witness history unfolding as Pairin tried to stop attempts to buy his assemblymen who were cooped up in the chief minister’s official residence.

At around 8pm, Musa and the assemblymen had gone to the Istana, which was nearby.

While Musa waited for an audience with Juhar in the Istana, we waited at Seri Gaya. The longer we waited, the lower it seemed Musa’s chance of becoming chief minister.

At around 10.45pm, someone asked the me­­dia, “Does anyone have a copy of the state constitution?” Someone from the media answered, “None, maybe Google it.”

At around 11.05pm there was a buzz in Seri Gaya that Musa will be sworn in as chief minister.

This time, it turned out to be true.

However, yesterday, six Barisan assemblymen – four from Umno and Two from Upko – ditched the Musa government to be with Warisan. And more assemblymen are believed to follow suit.

But Musa will try to strengthen his hold to power with the appointment of six nomina­ted assemblymen. In the Sabah constitution, the chief minister is allowed to nominate six assemblymen.

Tick tock, tick tock. How long will Musa’s government last?

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Opinion , Philip Golingai , One Man's Meat , GE14


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