Sabah Umno’s fall led to rise of factions, say analysts

Lee Kuok Tiung of Universiti Malaysia Sabah says the loss of political dominance made it easier for members to turn against leaders or join other parties.

(FMT) –  Sabah Umno’s loss of political dominance after the 2018 state assembly election has led to factionalism within the party, say analysts.

Lee Kuok Tiung of Universiti Malaysia Sabah said Sabah Umno leaders could command loyalty in the past as “no one wanted to be part of the opposition”.

However, when Umno could only win 17 state seats in 2018, and Sabah Umno’s power declined, “its followers, who held differing opinions, easily turned against their leaders or even joined other parties”, Lee told FMT.

He said the rift in Sabah Umno became more apparent after the “Kinabalu move”, a failed coup attempt led by Sabah Umno chief Bung Moktar Radin to oust Sabah chief minister Hajiji Noor last year.

Lee had previously said that intervention by Barisan Nasional (BN) headquarters was necessary to mitigate disputes between Sabah Umno factions.

BN deputy chairman Mohamad Hasan has declared that the BN national leadership will have the final say on whether Sabah BN contests the next state assembly election on its own or in partnership with another party. The election is due next year.

Oh Ei Sun of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs agreed that schisms in Sabah Umno arose after the party was no longer in the driving seat of the state government.

Oh said Umno secured more than half the state assembly seats in 2013, winning 34 out of 60 seats. However, its numbers were halved in 2018.

With Sabah Umno no longer in the driving seat of the state government, “it is not in a position to appease its numerous warlords, who are thus emboldened to exhibit their ambitions to dominate over one another”, Oh said.

He said that the backstabbing among Umno warlords for personal gain in the state would pose a challenge for the party’s recovery in Sabah.

Oh cited the time Shahelmey Yahya was suspended by Umno for refusing to toe the party line during the attempt to oust Hajiji, after which he was appointed as a Sabah deputy chief minister.

However, Oh said that Umno could halt the infighting by appointing a strong political figure in Sabah to maintain stability and foster unity among its members.

“Most Sabahans continue to prefer parties that can bring them immediate material benefits, and Umno has the capacity for that,” said Oh.