KOTA KINABALU, Nov 5 — Sabotage and proxy candidates could be the theme for the 15th general election in Sabah, based on the tangled and fraying web of political coalitions and parties all intending to contest.
No stranger to multi-cornered fights, Sabah’s typically chaotic political arena looks set to be even more unpredictable this time, due primarily to the frangibility of the alliances built since the previous general election.
The Opposition parties, in particular, appear especially fractured, with Parti Warisan, Pakatan Harapan (PH), Parti Kesejahteraan Demokratik Malaysia (PKDM), and Gerakan Tanah Air (GTA) all set to clash against each other.
The most formidable of the lot, former allies Warisan and PH, have been publicly at one another’s throats for weeks, each blaming the other for the downfall of the PH federal government in 2020 and for failure to fulfil its promises to Sabah.
Sabah has 25 federal seats up for contest in GE15. While Warisan has seven incumbents and PH has six, both have said they will contest in all 25. Separately, PKDM, a Warisan splinter party is contesting at least eight seats while newcomer GTA is contesting 14.
The most intense clashes between the Opposition heavyweights are expected to be in the urban seats of Kota Kinabalu, Sandakan, Tawau and Batu Sapi, and the Kadazandusun heartland of Penampang. As all were held by these parties, the infighting will likely split the Opposition vote, benefitting their rivals under the country’s first-past-the-post voting system.
Yet the more surprising case of friendly fire appear to be between the ruling coalition of Gabungan Rakyat Sabah and its informal partner, Barisan Nasional, with some aggrieved hopefuls said to be planning last-minute manoeuvres to alter previously laid-out plans.
Sabah Bersatu chairman and Chief Minister Datuk Hajiji Noor and Sabah BN chairman Datuk Bung Moktar Radin, one of his deputy CMs, had announced a seat sharing formula of 13 and 12 seats for their coalitions, respectively, with nine new candidates.
They had anticipated pushback, and tried their best to placate those disappointed at being passed over, and pleaded with them to trust that this was the best compromise the two leaderships could broker in the interest of the state.
GRS comprised Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia’s (Bersatu) Sabah chapter, Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS), Parti Solidariti Tanah Airku (STAR), Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) and Usno; Sabah Barisan was composed of Umno, Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah (PBRS), MCA and MIC.
GRS and BN have been working together in the state government since it was formed in 2020 despite the fallout of BN and Perikatan Nasional (PN) at the federal level.
But with nine parties between them, there was always the possibility of latent disagreement, with clashes already were emerging, such as between STAR and PBRS as well as Bersatu and Umno.
STAR president Datuk Jeffrey Kitingan has openly expressed disappointment that only got two of the 13 seats given to GRS, and suggested that some aggrieved members could break ranks to go after seats allocated to PBRS.
After the BN-GRS candidate announcement, yet more rumours emerged that some retired leaders from both Umno and Bersatu could be plotting comebacks by tapping the unhappiness within both coalitions over the division of seats.
The most notable is Beluran incumbent Datuk Seri Ronald Kiandee, a five-term MP and federal minister who is upset at being dropped after his seat was given to BN.
Malay Mail learnt that a Bersatu federal minister was in the fray to help cobble the new deal together, ostensibly for a campaign under the umbrella of either the PKDM or PN logo.
Chief among those is Kiandee who broke ranks to contest the seat, after getting the blessings of PN chairman Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.
Other names mentioned include Libaran incumbent Datuk Zakaria Edris, who was also dropped by Hajiji. Some political insiders mentioned as many as seven candidates were eager to contest in Umno seats.
So far, both Hajiji and Bung are resisting any forms of interference, warning that the stability of the state government is at stake.
When asked whether any of the rumours were true, GRS secretary-general Datuk Masidi Manjun denied knowledge but said “in politics, anything can happen."
Officially, Umno is expected to field 11 candidates; Bersatu, six; PBS, four; STAR, two; while PBRS and SAPP will contest one each.
USNO, MIC and MCA were left out of the seat allocations.
Aside from Kiandee and Zakaria Edris, Kudat incumbent Datuk Rahim Bakri was also dropped. Beaufort incumbent Datuk Azizah Dun and Sipitang incumbent Datuk Hafez Yamani Musa, who was also dropped, had both indicated they did not want to contest.
Hafez is the son of former chief minister Tan Sri Musa Aman. Musa himself was rumoured to be eyeing the Libaran seat.