Clear choices await voters in Sabah snap elections

Voters can go for the emotional jugular and cast ballots in favour of those who play up sentiments of state pride. -- Pix: NSTP/ ASWADI ALIASVoters can go for the emotional jugular and cast ballots in favour of those who play up sentiments of state pride. — Pix: NSTP/ ASWADI ALIAS

TODAY is nomination day for the 16th Sabah state election, which will be held on Sept 26. It is a snap poll as the Sabah State Legislative Assembly was dissolved just a little over two years after it was elected simultaneously in the 14th General Election (GE14) in May 2018.

Shafie and Musa had been political rivals from even their time together as Umno stalwarts before Shafie left it to form Parti Warisan Sabah (Warisan) just before GE14. In the aftermath of the historic defeat of the Umno-led Barisan Nasional (BN) in GE14, politics in Sabah became splintered like never before.The dissolution was triggered by a running feud between incumbent Chief Minister Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal and his predecessor, Tan Sri Musa Aman, which culminated in the latter claiming he had secured a simple majority of defecting assemblymen of the now-dissolved assembly.

This is best seen in the twists and turns on the eve of nomination day. There is bound to be surprises galore even after tomorrow right up to polling day and beyond. All eyes will be fixated on Sabah over the next two weeks.

Political practitioners and pundits alike will scour the landscape there for any clue of where the nation may or may not be headed in what, after all, is the first mass electoral test after the first-ever change in federal government in 2018 and latest political alignments with Perikatan Nasional (PN) in power nationally earlier this year.

What should Malaysians be looking for? Most crucially, it must be to see if Warisan and its allies under the Warisan-Plus coalition consolidate and prove themselves capable of forming a more durable state government than its first attempt. Early signs thus far are mixed. Warisan’s main allies in Pakatan Harapan — DAP and PKR — give every indication they are far from satisfied with their seat allocations and other arrangements.

The first indication of trouble came with DAP agreeing — most reluctantly, it appears — to fight this election using Warisan’s symbol rather than its own. PKR will have none of that and is smarting over having only half its hoped-for number of seats to contest in.

Is DAP giving up its rocket symbol this time an indication that Sabah-based parties rather than national ones are gaining political ascendancy? If so, will it spell trouble for PN and BN and other parties aligned to them? What of the prospects of Parti Cinta Sabah, headed by former foreign minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman, which stated it will contest all 73 seats?

What bears scrutiny is also what Anifah’s brother, Musa, the ex-chief minister, will do now that he has been rebuffed by Umno and Bersatu. He is, however, still widely regarded as Shafie’s main opponent. That speaks primarily of how little party affiliations and loyalties ultimately count in deciding who and which existing or new combination of parties end up ruling Sabah come Sept 26.

In which case, whatever mandate any winning coalition eventually secures will be subject to varying interpretations. The expected multi-cornered fights in many seats will mean anything is possible, including infighting and backstabbing even within supposed political allies. Not for nothing is Sabah often referred to as the “wild, wild East” of Malaysian politics.

But, as in any general election, even one as perplexing and confusing as this one appears shaping up to be, clear choices are confronting Sabah voters — if they can rise above all the discordant noises in the heat of campaigning.

Voters can go for the emotional jugular and cast ballots in favour of those who play up sentiments of state pride.

Or they can attempt a more dispassionate calculation of where theirs and the state’s interests really lie.

As the simmering Philippine claim to Sabah intrudes rudely in the run-up to this electoral exercise and brings into sharp relief that even foreigners cast “lascivious” eyes on the state, the “us-versus-them” political rhetoric that some politicians cast state-federal ties is misplaced and even false.

A good and stable relationship between Sabah and the federal government is the sine qua non for real progress and development in Sabah.

By John Teo.

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