Sabah political parties fighting over seats

(FMT) – Switching between news links on social media with the US political drama House of Cards playing on his phone, graphic artist Les Lee shakes his head.

“This is tame. Sabah politicians and their antics out-trump this. Get it?” he says with a smirk, amused at his intended pun.

In just several weeks, Sabahans have watched as their state government formed by Warisan, DAP, PKR and Upko fell apart just two years into its term following a spate of defections.

The drama continued with the governor, Juhar Mahiruddin, dissolving the state assembly on the advice of Chief Minister Shafie Apdal, paving the way for the state election on Sept 26.

The next episode was former chief minister Musa Aman and his band of 32 state assemblymen aligned with him failing in their bid to challenge Juhar’s decision in court.

Adding to the plot was the open defiance by 12 Sabah Umno division chiefs against party president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi just hours after he named state Umno leader Bung Moktar Radin as the party’s election chief.

“The situation remains fluid,” said Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) president Yong Teck Lee, a former chief minister. “It is messy on all sides and voters are waiting for nomination day to see how the battle lines are drawn.”

Political analyst Lee Kuok Tiung of Universiti Malaysia Sabah expects new alliances to be worked out before nomination day on Sept 12 among some of the dozen or so political parties hoping to contest.

They include smaller parties such as Parti Cinta Sabah and Liberal Democratic Party, which failed to win any seats in 2018 and are now positioning themselves as alternatives or the “third force” to Warisan Plus.

Other “mosquito parties” include Parti Gagasan Rakyat Sabah, Parti Anak Negeri and Usno.

“Deals among these smaller parties are possible because sharing or combining their resources would make more sense than going solo,” Lee said.

“Then again, the candidates of some of these parties may even lose their deposits.”

Sabah Umno is being watched to see if it can work out a seat-sharing deal with PPBM. Umno wants to contest in seats that it won in 2018 but which were lost when its candidates switched parties including to PPBM.

Another contentious issue is whether Sabah Umno will relent and allow its ally PBS to contest under its own “handshake” symbol. If so, STAR and PBRS, also partners in Perikatan Nasional, could make a similar move.

The question of a common symbol is also dogging the Warisan Plus camp with Shafie saying there have been disagreements over suggestions for such a move.

Horse trading among parties is under way and Yong is certain that all deals will be worked out by nomination day.

“The grassroots will demand they want everything sorted out. At the moment, the friction is between some personalities,” he added.

Until then, voters in Sabah will continue to get their dose of political drama.