By Jamari Mohtar
DESPITE having to deal with 17 friendly fires which was not resolved right up to the polling day, versus nil friendly fire on the part of Warisan Plus coalition which gave the latter a very good opportunity to win the Sabah state election in what analysts had earlier predicted as a tight contest, against all odds, the Gabungan Rakyat Sabah (GRS) coalition led by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin had won.
And in that 17 friendly fires where the parties in GRS were clashing with each other, Warisan Plus managed to win only six – a pathetic 35% when it should be near 100%, and to boot, all six were held by Warisan previously, with five incumbent assemblymen.
Meanwhile, out of 14 political frogs – which Sabah is well known for – that had shifted allegiance to Musa Aman which led to the snap election, a “respectable” 11 (79%) were still fielded in the election. And out of these 11 – four (36%) went on to win.
Hence, based on the election results in which GRS won a simple majority of 38 seats, a reinterpretation of Sabah politics is required in which it shows leap frogging is no longer a big issue there, as voters seemed to be forgiving, and friendly fires can be defined for what it is – a friendly fire among friends that ensures one of the friends will win.
One may argue that 38 seats, is just one seat more to form a government (37 seats), but initial report said all the three victorious independents have expressed their desire to be GRS-friendly state legislators, making the GRS tally to 41.
Moreover, with nil friendly fire and leap frogging taking place among the Warisan Plus assemblymen before the election, which should be punishable by the voters, logically speaking Warisan Plus should have garnered more than 32 seats (Warisan, 23 seats; DAP, 6 seats; PKR, 2 seats; and Upko, 1 seat) it had just won.
Although this was more than the 29 seats it won in the last state election (Warisan, 21; DAP, 6; and PKR, 2), but that was on the basis of a total of 60 seats then (48%).
In the just concluded election, Warisan Plus garnered 32 seats out of 73 (44%) – a 4 percentage point drop in the number of seats won.
This is as good as saying it was Warisan (being the party that had won the most seats or rather the party that had shown no improvement by losing two seats compared to DAP and PKR) that was being trounced.
So, what are the factors that can explain the trouncing of Warisan after making its debut in the political scene in 2018 by being the state government?
In my opinion, it’s Muhyiddin’s messaging on the need for a state government to be in alignment with the federal government that has sealed Warisan’s fate.
And Muhyiddin did this without any threat to Sabah by simply emphasising that since resources are limited, the federal government can only help an opposition state government with the mandatory basic assistances required by the rakyat.
The experience of Sarawak is a case in point. Through Muhyiddin’s intervention, the national oil company, Petronas, in June had agreed to pay in full the petroleum products sales tax imposed by Sarawak for the year 2019, which is in excess of RM2 bil, or 5% of the products’ sales value.
This came as the two parties reached an agreement on the management of Sarawak’s oil and gas assets, the sales tax on petroleum products, and that future petroleum products sales tax will be lower and staggered based on future negotiations, under the State Sales Tax.
The payment was made to the Sarawak government on Sep 17 while Sabah was in the throes of a surge in Covid-19 infections and campaigning had begun earnestly.
Yet, another factor is Muhyiddin’s hard work in going down the field in rural areas to make himself known to the voters.
They (voters) actually have known him through his rakyat-centric speeches delivered on TV, which gave images of a caring “Abah”, who is sensitive (prihatin) to the sufferings of the rakyat brought about by the economic downturn due to Covid-19.
He came across as genuine and sincere in all these images but nothing beats seeing him and assessing him up close and personal when he was on the ground.
And the verdict of the Sabah rural folks, majority of whom are the Kadazandusun Murut (KDM) communities, seems to be: “This is the guy we can trust and work with.”
This was the turning point that had caused a switch in support of the KDM communities from Warisan Plus especially the KDM dominated United Party Kinabalu Organisation (Upko) to GRS’ KDM dominated Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) and Parti Solidarity Tanah Airku (Star), with Upko being trounced by winning only one seat out of 12. To add salt to the injury, its president, Wilfred Madius Tangau lost his seat in Kiulu.
Muhyiddin’s presence on the ground was also attributed by some analysts as resulting in a last-minute switch of support from Barisan Nasional to Bersatu. In fact, the parties using the PN symbol (Bersatu, Sabah Progressive Party and Star) won the highest, with 17 seats in the GRS coalition.
The Sabah election, unnecessary as it was, because it was called due to a failed attempt at power grab, has put Muhyiddin in a tenable position with this unexpected victory, although at the Federal level nothing has changed.
With this victory, let’s hope there won’t be any more call for a snap election until the country is declared Covid-19-free and the economy is back on a firm footing, or the 15th general election is called as scheduled in 2023, whichever comes first.
The rakyat is getting election fatigue with each and every call for a snap election, and only the politicians are free of election fatigue. – Sept 30, 2020
Jamari Mohtar is Director of Media & Communications at EMIR Research, an independent think-tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based upon rigorous research.