With 4 days to go, Sabah election campaign moves into top gear

(FMT) – Campaigning for the 16th Sabah election has shifted into full gear as parties vying for the 73 seats jostle with each other to win the hearts and minds of voters with only four days to go before polling.

Political bigwigs from both sides of the divide have travelled across the state – from the west coast to the vast interior regions and districts on the east coast – to win the support of the electorate.

The opposition parties have fielded all their “stars”, from Prime Minister and Perikatan Nasional (PN) chairman Muhyiddin Yassin to Barisan Nasional (BN) chairman Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and former premier Najib Razak, among others, each pulling their weight to ensure victory and form the next government.

Even former chief minister Musa Aman, who sat out from contesting in this election, has come out to offer his support for the opposition albeit midway through the campaign period.

More federal ministers and PN/BN leaders are scheduled to descend on the Land Below the Wind in the coming days.

For Warisan Plus, help has come from leaders from the peninsula such as PKR president Anwar Ibrahim and DAP stalwarts Lim Kit Siang and Lim Guan Eng.

The coalition’s partners, comprising Warisan, Upko, DAP and PKR, are leaving nothing to chance in their bid to retain the state government.

Anwar made whistle-stop tours to the seven seats contested by his party on Sunday, although the last stop in Inanam was disrupted after it was found the event did not have approval from the authorities.

The main face of Warisan Plus, however, has been caretaker chief minister Shafie Apdal whose image is emblazoned on posters and giant billboards with the theme “Unity” – Warisan’s underlying message to Sabahans to stand together and stave off the opposition, particularly those from the peninsula.

Campaigning started on a slow pace after nominations on Sept 12, with only pockets of ceramahs held, but the attendance had nonetheless been encouraging for both Warisan Plus and its main threat, which is a combination of PN, BN and PBS.

The frequency picked up as it approached halfway point in the campaign period, and both sides attracted sizeable crowds eager to find out what is being promised.

But Warisan Plus seems to have its back to the wall with attacks from all cylinders from the BN-PN-PBS opposition, with local parties LDP and Parti Cinta Sabah (PCS) lending support.

The opposition candidates have mainly centred their onslaught on Warisan Plus being friendly to illegal immigrants, a long-standing and burning issue among Sabahans, particularly the Kadazan Dusun Murut (KDM) community.

Another argument used against Warisan Plus is that they caused Sabah’s economy to suffer because of their incompetence.

Shafie has also been accused of not doing anything about the Philippines’ claim over Sabah when he said Malaysia should bring the issue to an Asean platform to settle the matter once and for all.

And it did not help the coalition’s cause when former federal tourism minister Mohamaddin Ketapi made a controversial remark about the Lahad Datu incursion, describing it as a farce, which the opposition wasted no time to capitalise on.

Warisan Plus has attempted to rally the people to unite and fend off “power-crazy overlords” from the peninsula, mainly from PN and BN, from coming over and telling Sabahans what to do and think.

Shafie’s “Unity” speeches seem to resonate with the people where the Warisan president has preached on inclusiveness and building a nation, and not involving a particular race or religion.

Political rhetoric or not, observers agree that it is a brave message the former Umno vice- president is trying to send especially when the country’s politics are played along racial and religious lines, mostly in the peninsula.

Other issues brought up by Shafie and company include Sabah rights continuing to be eroded if BN and PN were to take over power, and Warisan pursuing what is due to the state, especially in oil and gas matters, and the 40% revenue collected from Sabah.

With voting set for Saturday, none of the main contenders seems to have taken a commanding lead, although smaller parties like LDP, PCS and Usno are making up ground.