GRS, Warisan Plus in a tight race for Sabah election

by AZREEN HANI / pic by BERNAMA

NO PARTIES or coalitions can claim an easy win in the upcoming Sabah state election, which analysts describe as the toughest election so far.

The Opposition’s newly launched coalition, Gabungan Rakyat Sabah (GRS), has unveiled some household names as its candidates, but the collision within allies, as well as ambiguity over the chief minister’s (CM) candidate could threaten Perikatan Nasional (PN), Barisan Nasional (BN) and Parti Bersatu Sabah’s (PBS) chance at winning.

“Two important things we need to remember are that Sabahans, judging by record, prefer candidates they are familiar with, regardless whether he (candidate) has jumped ship or not,” political analyst Dr Ahmad Atory Hussain told The Malaysian Reserve yesterday.

“This is where GRS has the advantage. They have some heavyweights — for example (Datuk Seri Dr) Salleh Said (Keruak) had expressed intention to leave Umno, but he returned as a candidate because BN knows he is an asset,” Ahmad Atory added.

He, however, noted that GRS parties from BN, PN and PBS would have to work with each other and be united to win the election.

“It seems to me that the underlying issue that becomes apparent in GRS right now is how Umno and Bersatu (Pari Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia) are actually competing against one another ultimately for the CM post,” he added.

“The fact that the Prime Minister (Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin) had to announce a new super-grand coalition to unite all parties is quite telling on challenges ahead, if they win this poll.”

Muhyiddin announced the formation of GRS on Saturday, saying it is unlikely one party can form the government on its own in the state of Sabah.

“What is important is that we will work as a team to form a government that will develop Sabah. Members at all levels must put aside all disagreements and old grudges to embrace a new spirit of GRS,” Muhyiddin said.

However, the nomination list from the Election Commission revealed that BN will be contesting against its PN and PBS allies in 17 out of the total 73 state seats.

The seats are Bengkoka, Telupid, Lumadan, Matunggong, Tandek, Kadamaian, Kapayan, Karamunting, Melalap, Sook, Bingkor, Moyog, Tulid, Paginatan, Liawan, Tambunan and Tanjung Aru.

It was also reported that Muhyiddin had hinted at the possibility of Datuk Hajiji Noor becoming the state’s CM. This was refuted by Umno president Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

Posting from his Twitter account, Ahmad Zahid said BN and its allies will decide on the CM post if the coalition wins enough seats to form a new government.

Still, the issues within GRS do not warrant a sure win for Warisan Plus, which is led by incumbent CM Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal.

BN, which Ahmad Atory believes has a strong support base, will urge voters to vote for parties that are aligned with the federal administration.

“That is something Mohd Shafie and his team will have to convince otherwise. Sabahans need progress and they want to be assured of that. Personally, I think it will be a tight race,” he said, adding that there may be interesting political manoeuvres after the election.

Political analyst Prof Dr Mohd Azizuddin Mohd Sani of Universiti Utara Malaysia said GRS’ strength should not be underestimated, but its internal conflict could potentially push voters away.

“Contesting against each other may work in favour of Warisan, but we must remember — GRS still has the federal backing,” Mohd Azizuddin said. He noted that Warisan Plus has passed the unity test by having all coalition parties — Parti Warisan Sabah, DAP, PKR, United Progressive Kinabalu Organisation and Parti Amanah Negara agree on seat allocations.

“However, another factor for voters to consider will be the candidate’s credibility,” he said.

“I admit, voters have a clear CM candidate under Warisan Plus with Mohd Shafie, and the general sentiment is in favour (of him). But to be the CM, the coalition needs to secure a win first. It is not an easy task to defeat GRS.”

There are 447 candidates in the Sept 26 election which was called due to dissolution of the state assembly on July 30, after former CM Tan Sri Musa Aman claimed to have the majority to take over the government.

There is no straight fight in this poll, where all seats will see three-cornered fights at the minimum, and a maximum of 11 candidates vying for the Bengkoka seat.

Parti Cinta Sabah, led by former Cabinet minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman, is the sole party that is contesting all 73 seats.