Sabah will continue to be mired in a political crisis unless the winner of the state snap election gains victory with a convincing majority, said pundits.
However, it will be a challenge for any party to achieve a clean sweep in the polls, as the emergence of untested parties in the state such as Bersatu will likely split the vote in multi-cornered fights.
Speaking to Malaysiakini, long-time East Malaysia observer and University of Tasmania academic James Chin characterised the upcoming state elections as a “free for all”.
“Back in 2018, there were only two large coalitions - BN and the memorandum of understanding between Warisan and Pakatan Harapan, so most of the seats were (contested) one-to-one.
“Now, there is a sort of free for all because, at the federal level, it's not very clear whether the change is from BN to Muafakat Nasional. And on the ground, it is quite messy.
“So, that means, everyone will be trying their luck. There will be a lot more candidates this time,” Chin (below) predicted.
Even with two large players in GE14, none had emerged a clear winner. Immediately after the election, BN and Warisan-Harapan were deadlocked at 29 seats each.
The ensuing days saw Star siding with BN, allowing the latter to form the state government and Sungai Sibuga assemblyperson Musa Aman sworn in as chief minister for his fourth term.
Musa later lost his position after Upko and six BN assemblypersons defected to Warisan-Harapan, allowing Senallang assemblyperson Shafie Apdal to become the new chief minister instead.
Since GE14, Bersatu has set foot in Sabah. It had nine assemblypersons before the state assembly was dissolved on Thursday.
Meanwhile, former foreign minister and Musa’s younger brother Anifah Aman recently announced his comeback as the new leader of Parti Cinta Sabah.
On top of these new entries, Universiti Malaysia Sabah (Unimas) politics and government studies senior lecturer Arnold Puyok expected independent candidates to also enter the fray.
“They will split the vote.
“It is possible the electorate will look for alternatives to the present parties... because they were not involved in this issue of defections from Warisan or BN,” he told Malaysiakini.
“My assessment now is that there is a possibility we will go back to square one.
“Like what we experienced in the last election, small parties and new parties could be the kingmakers (after the election),” Puyok analysed.
Similarly, Chin foresaw more defections unless the winner is able to garner more than two-thirds majority in the 60-seat Sabah legislative assembly.
“The nightmare scenario for Sabah is that if the results are not conclusive like in 2018, then people will jump again.
“So the best outcome we want to hope for in this election is a clear result, at least a dozen majority,” he added.
'Indirect referendum' on coups
Earlier this week, Shafie (below) had pushed for snap polls to thwart Musa, who mounted a political coup by claiming defections from the Warisan government, which had given the latter a simple majority in the august House.
This is the second political coup for the country this year after February’s “Sheraton Move” where the defections of Bersatu and PKR MPs from Harapan led to the collapse of the Harapan federal government.
Bersatu and the defectors later allied with opposition parties BN, PAS, GPS, PBS, and Star to form the Perikatan Nasional (PN) administration.
Chin anticipated that the Sabah snap polls will shape up to be a “personality” showdown between Shafie and Musa, predicting the latter will be painted as an ally of the PN “backdoor government”.
Another key issue will be how Musa was controversially acquitted of 46 corruption and money laundering charges linked to timber concessions awarded during his time as chief minister.
Ultimately, Chin said the election results will serve as a barometer of sentiment towards PN.
“The people of Sabah will be the first people in Malaysia who will be given the chance to have an indirect referendum on the 'backdoor government',” he said.
“One of the issues used by Harapan will be (to use the election) as a way to punish Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin and his group for staging the coup d'etat in February. To teach PN and Muafakat Nasional a lesson,” he added.
For Puyok, the impending polls will also gauge Sabahans’ satisfaction with the Warisan government’s performance during its 27-month tenure.
It will further indicate what they think about “Peninsular-based parties” like PKR, DAP, and Bersatu.
“It is not just about the fight between Musa and Shafie.”