KOTA KINABALU – An early state election in Sabah would be advantageous to the ruling Barisan Nasional, observers said even as Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman dismissed the notion.
According to political analysts polled by Malay Mail Online, premature polls would allow BN to capitalise on the current disarray before the burgeoning number of opposition parties in the state can consolidate.
Universiti Malaysia Sarawak lecturer Arnold Puyok said that BN could not afford to wait for the Opposition to solidify their alliances and build enough “weapons” to attack the government.
“The likelihood of an earlier poll is quite high because they will want to capitalise on the BN’s relative stability in Sabah.
“Also, it’s good for the national coalition as they can continue to create momentum before calling for the general elections,” Arnold had told Malay Mail Online this week.
Rumours of an early state election for Sabah has swirled within political circles here for the past few months, although such a move has not been made since 1999.
In Malaysia, any state may dissolve its legislative assembly independently of Parliament, but in practice, most states coincide their polls with federal elections. The only states that have fallen out of this synchronisation are Sabah and Sarawak.
The Sabah state elections have been held simultaneously with the general elections in 2004, 2008 and 2013, however, while Sarawak conducted polls last year.
Having a separate state poll could mean that the ruling government would have an edge over the Opposition by distancing itself from national issues plaguing BN, while ignoring the 13 new state seats carved out under a new redelineation exercise last year.
The 13 new seats are expected to be formalised by Parliament in March.
But Puyok said that calling an early state election would also come with its own challenges.
“The issue is also whether Sabah BN has enough time to scout around for new talents and whether they have the time and programmes to regain the confidence of people. A major ‘con’ of holding election early is the people’s diminishing confidence in BN,” he said.
Political analyst from Universiti Malaysia Sabah Lee Kuok Tiung said it would be too risky a move for Sabah to call for its own polls, as there is no guarantee BN could pull off a bigger win with a higher margin of majority.
“Sabah must have very good justifications to go ahead for its own polls earlier, to convince the prime minister to give the green light to proceed with a state election. Surely they need to convince him that BN in Sabah can do better than the GE13 results,” he said, referring to the 13th general elections.
“The momentum for BN to win GE14 is there. Surely BN will want to maintain the momentum from the Sarawak state election and the two by-elections. Currently there’s no benchmark that can be used to conclude Sabah BN can confirm get more seats than GE13.”
BN failed to obtain a two-thirds majority in 1999 — the last time the state election was held separate from the national polls.
Lee told Malay Mail Online that even with the Opposition in disarray, BN still needs more time to ensure a bigger win and also iron out seat distributions among its component parties as well as candidate selection.
“Not to forget the costs needed to call for an election. If Sabah state election [is held] separately from GE14, it means the cost will be doubled,” he said.
Chief Minister Musa recently called on leaders to go down to the ground and “work as if elections was every day”, fuelling rumours of an earlier election for Sabah, ahead of the next general elections that must be held before May 2018.
However, Musa said yesterday it was normal for him to go to the grassroots and ask leaders to work hard.
In a statement, Musa had blamed the media for fuelling the rumour, claiming that the media indulges in speculative stories to engage their readers who are hungry for political news.
“People need to calm down and not over speculate when the State or general elections will take place,” Musa said.