Sabah victory a breather for PM, CM remains a guessing game

While Muhyiddin’s victory seen as critical, the Sabah results would likely have little effect at the federal level

by ALIFAH ZAINUDDIN / pic by BERNAMA

GABUNGAN Rakyat Sabah’s (GRS) surprise victory in the fiercely contested Sabah state polls on Saturday has given Prime Minister (PM) Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin a confidence boost as he seeks to fight off a challenge to his position by Opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

Muhyiddin said the crucial win in the state election was a sign of public confidence in the federal coalition. Analysts had earlier warned that a defeat could spell an end to Muhyiddin’s fractious alliance, which has a two-vote majority in Parliament.

Muhyiddin’s coalition Perikatan Nasional (PN), along with its allies, had netted 38 seats in the Sabah state polls, giving them a simple majority to take control of the state. The Warisan Plus bloc won 32 seats, while three independents secured the remaining seats, official tally showed.

University of Tasmania’s Asia Institute director Prof James Chin said while Muhyiddin’s victory is seen as critical, the results of the state polls would likely have little effect at the federal level.

“The state election focuses more on state issues, so the federal angle does not really come in. Anwar’s bid is dependent on the Yang di-Pertuan Agong giving him an audience to show he has support, so it will have little bearing from the Sabah side,” Chin told The Malaysian Reserve.

University of Nottingham’s Asia Research Institute honorary research associate Prof Dr Bridget Welsh said Muhyiddin’s troubles are far from over as he remains a man on borrowed time.

“He passed the first major electoral test, but barely,” she said.

Welsh had suggested on Twitter that Warisan’s defeat was down to “money, machinery, low voter turnout and splitting” among lower class, female and Muslim voters. She said voters from the Kadazan, Dusun and Murut (KDM) ethnic groups had also swung back to the bloc aligned with Muhyiddin.

Chin agreed that last-minute vote buying and illegal immigrant issues among KDM groups were key factors that had contributed to the state election results.

On whether the win would prompt Muhyiddin to call for an early general election (GE), Chin expects it to be delayed as much as possible.

“The general consensus is Umno and PAS will do much better in the next GE compared to Bersatu, so it is not in Muhyiddin’s interest to call for an election before it is time. He may use the victory in Sabah to delay it rather than to push for one.”

Malaysia’s next GE is scheduled for 2023, but deep divisions within existing coalitions have fuelled speculation of an early poll. Law Minister Datuk Takiyuddin Hassan last month said a snap GE would cost about RM1.2 billion.

Top-level negotiations on who should be Sabah chief minister (CM) continued throughout yesterday after the state polls with no clear winner. Sabah Bersatu chief Datuk Hajiji Noor and Umno leader Datuk Seri Bung Moktar Radin (picture) are the leading candidates.

GRS won 38 out of 73 seats in the 16th state election. Hajiji represents Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, which won 11 seats.

Umno, on the other hand, won 14 seats. However, Bersatu and its partner in PN won 17 combined state seats in total as opposed to Umno’s Barisan Nasional.

Meanwhile, Parti Warisan Sabah president Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal had yet to concede defeat by declaring that Warisan had secured 29 seats — the most by any single party. Article 6(3) and 6(7) of the Sabah Constitution state that the leader of a political party which has won a majority of the elected seats will likely be the leader who will command the confidence of the majority.

GRS leaders reportedly had an audience with the Sabah Governor Tun Juhar Mahiruddin yesterday afternoon to discuss candidates for the state’s CM post.

Parti Bersatu Sabah secretary general Datuk Jahid Jahim said the leaders have passed documents, allegedly statutory declarations by PN leaders, for the governor to peruse.

Bung Moktar said the governor has asked for some time to deliberate on the matter, but indicated the decision will be made “very soon”.