WHAT IS HAPPENING IN SABAH: IS NAJIB LOSING HIS GRIP ON MUSA AMAN

Whether the state holds early polls could depend on whether BN can perform better than it did in GE13.
“BE ready by May,” was a message posted by a Sabah Umno state minister in his private WhatsApp political group. This was in reference to early state polls ahead of the 14th General Election (GE14).

The message was screen captured and sent to a Sabah Barisan Nasional component party leader who shared it in his party’s leadership WhatsApp group. And my political contact in that WhatsApp group told me about the message.

The message strengthened speculation that my state will go ahead and hold a Sabah election before GE14.

Earlier on Monday, a Barisan politician told me that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak had given the green light to Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman to call for an early state election. The condition was whether Musa was confident Sabah Barisan could do better than it did in GE13. (In GE13, Barisan won 48 out of 60 state seats.)

“If the 13 new state seats are not included in the state election, then the polls can be held as soon as March or April,” said the politician over the phone.

“But if the new seats are included, the election might be in May. The proposal to carve out 13 new state seats is expected to be tabled by Parliament in March and hopefully approved a month later.”

Just like Sarawak, Sabah has always held its state polls separate from the general election. But after Umno took control of Sabah in 1994 following the collapse of the (then) opposition party Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS), it has been held simultaneously with peninsular Malaysia since 2004.

On Monday, coincidentally Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Joseph Pairin Kitingan said, “anything was possible” when asked in Kota Kinabalu about the growing political speculation that Sabah might go for an early election.

“It is all … speculation, which makes it interesting but then everyone has been told to prepare,” said Pairin, the founder of PBS.

The next day, the Sabah Chief Minister reacted.

“People need to calm down and not over-speculate when the state or general election will take place,” Musa said. “There is no need to get overly excited and go into overdrive, guessing when the next state or general election will be held.”

The Sabah Barisan Nasional chairman said it is normal for him to tell elected representatives to go down to the ground and work hard as if every day is election day.

“I always emphasise that we need to be consistently ever-present, meet the people, listen to their problems and try our best to resolve them not just before an election, but during and after elections,” he said.

“So, that means they must work hard like every day is election day.”

Musa’s statement was counterproductive to some.

“That means it is true there will be early polls. If not, why must he deny it,” a Sabah opposition politician told me.

“There’s no guarantee that there will be early polls for Sabah,” I said. “It all depends on the intel reports on whether Barisan can win the state convincingly.” But that didn’t convince the opposition politician.

“I heard it is on. My source in (Sabah) Umno told me,” he said.

The big question is, can Sabah do a Sarawak?

Led by the late Tan Sri Adenan Satem, Barisan won 72 out of 82 seats in Sarawak. It bettered its performance in the 2011 Sarawak polls, where it lost 16 seats out of 71 seats.

During the Sarawak polls in May last year, Barisan was upbeat that it would better its 2011 results. Adenanmania was in the air.

“It will be good for Sabah Barisan if it can emulate Sarawak,” I told a Sabah Barisan politician at a bar in Grand Margherita Hotel in Kuching.

“It won’t happen,” said the politician from a Sabah-based Barisan party.

“Why?” I asked.

“Three reasons. Sarawak has Adenan. Sarawak has no Umno. Sarawak has no PTI (pendatang tanpa izin or illegal immigrants),” he said. And for some strange reason, the single malt whisky on the rocks I was sipping tasted bitter.

I’ve been back in Kota Kinabalu since Wednesday, and I have been having breakfast with politicians and political observers. And the consensus is, there’s no consensus.

Depending on who you are talking to, it looks like Barisan will win big or the Opposition will form the next Sabah Government.

On paper, it looks like an easy win for Barisan as the Opposition are split. Very likely it will be Barisan vs United Sabah Alliance (Datuk Wilfred Bumburing’s PCS, Datuk Yong Teck Lee’s SAPP, Datuk Dr Jeffrey Kitingan’s Star and Datuk Lajim Ukin’s Parti Harapan Rakyat Sabah) vs Pakatan Harapan vs Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal’s Warisan vs PAS vs mosquito parties vs independents.

But in reality, many Chinese and Kadazandusun seats will be tough for Barisan, especially if the Opposition gets its act together.

The key to toppling Sabah Barisan is to win the Muslim seats. It is near impossible to beat Umno in its 32 seats out of the 60 state seats.

MOVE TO SLOT IN FAMILY & FRIENDS, OUST FOES

After Umno formed the Sabah Government, so far only Lajim (ex-PBS, ex-Umno and ex-PKR) has managed to beat Umno in its seat in Sabah. He won the Klias seat under the PKR flag.

But now with Semporna MP Shafie and Sulabayan assemblyman Datuk Jaujan Sambakong quitting Umno, there is a possibility that other Umno seats will fall.

“All four seats in Semporna parliamentary constituency will fall,” a Special Branch operative from the east coast of Sabah told me. And I relayed this feedback to a veteran journalist over breakfast on Thursday.

“No, lah. Don’t underestimate Umno. Umno can win if it wants to. Don’t forget it has the means to do so,” he said.

“Why is there a call for early polls?” I asked.

“If Barisan can win big, it will be a great morale booster for Barisan in GE14,” he said. “Also, there is a move in Sabah Umno to eliminate enemies within the party, and position friends and family as candidates.”

I tweeted that there’s a possibility of early Sabah polls and a Sabahan replied, “Ini kali lah” (this is the time).

Will there be snap polls? Barangkali lah (Maybe).

ANN

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