When democracy dies even in the light

Political realities run hand in hand with poverty. Poor electorates turn to their state assemblymen for help…Money buys votes


A FAILED coup d’état in Sabah has led to the first state election since the May 9, 2018, general election.

Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal (picture) announced the dissolution of the state assembly as a retaliation against a takeover bid orchestrated by former Chief Minister Tan Sri Musa Aman.

Musa claimed he had 33 state assemblymen in his side and had the right to form the state government. His efforts though, riddled with allegations of money offerings and senior state positions, were scuppered in an extraordinary manner.

In a much-needed injection of drama, Mohd Shafie moved to dissolve the state assembly, giving back the rights to decide who should lead the state in the hands of over 1.11 million voters based on the 2018 electoral rolls.

Talks of the collapse of the Sabah government had been circulating in the last few weeks. It reached a fever pitch after the visits of Umno and Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia’s top brass.

But Mohd Shafie pulled the final bullet from his arsenal and took the fight like the shootout at the OK Corral. If Mohd Shafie wants to go out, he is going out with all guns blazing.

Changes in state leadership have been like a walk to the ice cream shop in the last few months. Kedah, Perak and Johor had witnessed changes in the controlling political parties since the collapse of the Pakatan Harapan government in March.

Composition of the ruling parties in these states is as brittle as glass. Horse trading could see another round of changes.

Party hopping becomes a norm like wearing a face mask in public. State leaders and political alliances shifted faster than the speed of light. Politicians now are viewed as bogeymen.

Loyalties and pledges were sinking fast. Political survival depended on the support from the new Perikatan Nasional government at the federal level.

But, political betrayal in Sabah is not new. For decades, political backstabbing and allegiance shifts are as common as changing the diaper of a baby.

In 1990, Parti Bersatu Sabah pulled out from the Barisan Nasional coalition on the eve of the July 1990 state election. Many similar episodes occurred in the last three decades.

Political nightmares in a state with the sixth-highest GDP of RM88,042 billion based on 2018 figures, but among the poorest states in the country.

Sabah has the second-lowest median disposable income of just RM3,788 in 2019, just above Kelantan with RM3,309 based on figures released by the Statistics Department.

Even poor states like Perak (RM3,803), Sarawak (RM3,994) and Perlis (RM3,803) are above Sabah.

Political realities run hand in hand with poverty. Poor electorates turn to their state assemblymen for help from daily expenses to children’s schooling to medical bills. Such realities are more widespread in Sabah. Money buys votes.

If any links can be made, horse trading and political betrayal are common in the poor states. In contrast, Kuala Lumpur with an average disposable income median of RM8,834 witness little pressure from electorates.

The current frailty of the administrations at the federal and state level has a greater consequence. Foreign investors had pulled out about RM18 billion from the country’s equity market.

The market was only saved by local retail investors who have poured in about RM10 billion into the stock market, largely due to the extra cash from the six-month loan moratorium. Once the moratorium is over, the market will be left with one less leg.

Sabah state election will be closely watched as the barometer of what will happen next including a possible snap election.

The current horse trading and political hopping are scarring the country, destroying hopes and demonising the belief of many.

Politicians are minting money, while the country is hurting. Democracy is dying even in the light.

Mohamad Azlan Jaafar is the group editor and MD of The Malaysian Reserve.