Forming alliances post-election a strategic move for Sabah Umno, says analyst

Lee Kuok Tiung says today’s unity government was the result of strategic ‘political manoeuvring’, and that the same could happen in Sabah.

(FMT) – It would be a strategic move for Sabah Umno to forge alliances with Warisan or other parties only after the state polls, according to an analyst.

Lee Kuok Tiung of Universiti Malaysia Sabah cited the formation of the unity government between Pakatan Harapan (PH), Barisan Nasional (BN) and other coalitions at the federal level as an example, saying it was unforeseen by many.

“Today’s Madani unity government itself is a coalition government that was the result of ‘political manoeuvring’.

“Nobody expected a power-sharing agreement between representatives of various political factions with differing ideologies or interests after the 15th general election, especially since they had been ‘biting’ each other for so long.

“This underscores the dynamic and unpredictable nature of politics, reflecting also the pragmatic nature of politics,” he told FMT.

Sabah could very well witness the same thing after the next state election, Lee added.

“In politics, you always see two sides engaged in a barrage of attacks and hurling insults suddenly becoming good friends despite their adversarial history.”

He said Sabah Umno’s problem was Sabah BN’s decline in strength, as some key figures had left to start their own parties.

In particular, Shafie Apdal’s departure from Umno to start Warisan, coupled with the exit of Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) and Upko from BN had left the coalition weakened in the east coast of Sabah and in Kadazandusun Murut (KDM)-majority areas.

“Umno’s polemic is that the other BN component parties are not performing. Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah can likely help defend the Pensiangan (parliamentary) seat, but what about the urban seats or the KDM-majority seats?

“The Sabah Progressive Party, Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), PBS and Upko all used to be BN component parties and contributed votes to Umno candidates. Now they are rivals,” he said.

Upko left BN following the 14th general election which saw the coalition voted out of Putrajaya. It went on to back and later join PH.

LDP and PBS followed suit, with the latter now a major component of the Hajiji Noor-led Gabungan Rakyat Sabah (GRS) coalition.

Last week, FMT quoted Sabah Umno information chief Suhaimi Nasir as saying the state chapter might consider cooperating with Warisan only after the state polls.

Though talks with Warisan were going smoothly, he said a cautious stance might be adopted to prevent a recurrence of what had happened after the 2020 state polls, where many agreements with GRS were allegedly unfulfilled.

It was earlier speculated that Sabah Umno and Warisan would work together in the state polls, after Shafie announced the possibility at his party’s general assembly in December.

This was played down by Sabah Umno leaders, while the federal BN recently said it would decide on the matter.

Oh Ei Sun of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs said it was dangerous to forge alliances only after the polls as both Warisan and Umno risked “cannibalising” each other’s votes in overlapping constituencies.

“(Seat clashes) may cause both sides to not win seats that they otherwise might have won if they had apportioned those seats well beforehand and assisted one another in campaigning.

“It could perhaps hand a seat to a third party that squeezes through by a thin margin,”he said.