KOTA KINABALU • Sabah’s political parties have begun closed-door meetings in preparation for a snap election following the abrupt dissolution of the state assembly last Thursday.
Most took a break on the first day of the Hari Raya Haji celebrations on Friday but by the next day had begun discussing potential candidates and seat sharing for the 73 seats up for grabs.
The battlefield is a crowded one, with old and new parties jostling to contest.
There is the incumbent government led by Parti Warisan Sabah (Warisan) and its partners United Progressive Kinabalu Organisation (Upko) and Pakatan Harapan (PH).
The three Peninsular Malaysia-based PH parties are Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), Democratic Action Party (DAP) and Parti Amanah Negara (Amanah).
On the other side are the opposition parties, made up broadly of Umno-led Barisan Nasional, and its allies Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS), Sabah STAR and Sabah Bersatu.
Another emerging player is former foreign minister Anifah Aman who recently took over Parti Cinta Sabah and is planning to contest all the seats.
Although Warisan president Mohd Shafie Apdal, who was seen going for a walk at the Bukit Padang park last Saturday morning, remains an influential east coast Sabah Bajau leader, he needs to strengthen his party in the west coast and the interiors.
His coalition faces stiff challenges from Sabah Umno and Sabah Bersatu as well PBS and Sabah STAR in those areas.
Datuk Seri Shafie’s influence in the east coast Sandakan parliamentary seat had boosted the DAP’s victory in a by-election last year, with Ms Vivian Wong winning by a huge majority.
But Warisan failed to wrest the Kimanis parliamentary seat in the west coast from Umno this year.
As for the opposition, Sabah Umno chairman Bung Moktar Radin has hinted that the party wants to contest all its traditional seats. That would leave little room for Sabah Bersatu, who is led at the federal level by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin. Sabah Bersatu’s nine incumbent assemblymen were elected representatives from Umno who had defected.
Sabah Bersatu, led by west coast Bajau leader Hajiji Mohd Noor, has shown interest in contesting in 45 seats. Datuk Seri Hajiji said they were prepared to discuss with other opposition parties to strengthen their position against the Warisan coalition.
This is so that they and Perikatan Nasional, Umno and BN can combine their strength to ensure victory in the elections, he said.
Bersatu, which did not contest in Sabah during the 2018 general election, spread its wings to the state in April last year. It was boosted by the defection of nine Sabah Umno assemblymen as well as its MPs.
The change of the political scenario at the national level in March saw Bersatu and Umno working together. However, it has yet to be seen if Sabah Bersatu and Sabah Umno will strike an alliance.
As for Sabah PKR, it will finalise its line-up next week, promising to be “extra careful” in its choice of candidates.
With two of its assemblymen and one MP having defected, Sabah PKR chairman Christina Liew said: “We will assess them carefully. Every name we receive, we will screen their background thoroughly.”
The assessment would include checks on a candidate’s educational background, financial situation as well as political inclination, among others, she told reporters after meeting leaders of Inanam PKR whose assemblyman Kenny Chua was among 13 representatives who defected last week.
Despite his denials, Mr Chua supported Tan Sri Musa Aman’s bid to oust the Warisan-led coalition government through a spate of defections by those from Upko, DAP and Warisan. In March, PKR’s Ranau MP Jonathan Yasin defected to join a group of lawmakers led by former PKR deputy president Azmin Ali.
Another nominated assemblyman, Mr Jaffari Walliam, also left. He joined the group of assemblymen who backed Mr Musa.
“I admit I was mistaken in recommending Jaffari as a nominated elected representative for PKR. As for Chua, I am disappointed in him,” Datuk Liew said.
The party, she added, would not be affected by his crossover.
Ms Liew said they would also be discussing seat arrangements with DAP and Amanah.
THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK