Muhyiddin Yassin’s hastily glued alliance – Gabungan Rakyat Sabah (GRS) – has defeated incumbent Shafie Apdal in the just concluded Sabah state election. It definitely gives the backdoor prime minister a temporary boost as he faces a leadership challenge that could see his Perikatan Nasional ruling government collapse at the federal level. But the game has just begun.
After a hard-fought election campaign, together with an economic stimulus package worth RM10 billion thrown in where an additional cash handouts of between RM1,000 and RM300 are offered to 10.6 million households and single people, Muhyiddin’s GRS alliance won a total of 38 Sabah State Assembly seats – just one seat above the minimum 37 required to form the next state government.
Out of the 38 seats won by the GRS, Perikatan Nasional secured 17 seats, Barisan Nasional grabbed 14 seats and PBS (Parti Bersatu Sabah) captured 7 seats. On the other hand, rival incumbent government Warisan-Plus won 32 seats – Warisan (23 seats), DAP (6 seats), PKR (2 seats) and UPKO (1 seat). Independent candidates won the remaining 3 seats in the 73-seat constituencies of Sabah.
Interestingly, Muhyiddin now enjoys the same razor-thin 2-seat majority in both Sabah state (GRS alliance) and federal government in the Peninsular (Perikatan Nasional). But in Sabah, its special system allows the chief minister to appoint an additional 6 “nominated” state assemblymen (who enjoy the same rights as an elected state assemblyman) to boost the state government’s majority.
Given that the 3 independent candidates reportedly have expressed their support for the winning team, GRS, it’s perplexing that a new chief minister is yet to be sworn in. GRS together with the three independents would have 41 seats, to be strengthened to 47 seats with 6 extra nominated assemblymen. Had Warisan-Plus won 38 seats, Shafie would have been sworn in last night itself.
Here’s where the problem starts. Perikatan Nasional Sabah, despite winning 17 seats, is itself a coalition made of PPBM (11 seats) and STAR (6 seats). Barisan Nasional Sabah’s 14 seats were won by UMNO alone (its members PBRS and MCA lost every seat contested). Hence, UMNO argued that even though Perikatan won more seats than Barisan, it doesn’t count as Perikatan is a coalition.
As a party, it is UMNO (not Perikatan) that won the most seats in GRS. Therefore, in a proper order of which party wins the most seats, UMNO comes top with 14 seats, followed by Muhyiddin’s party PPBM (11 seats), PBS (7 seats) and STAR (6 seats). This is why UMNO president Zahid Hamidi said – “The chief minister from GRS must be chosen from UMNO.”
However, going by UMNO’s logic, the single party with the most seats actually belongs to rival Warisan with its 23 seats. And if a single common logo is a measurement, Warisan-Plus won the most seats with 29 seats (Warisan’s 23 seats together with DAP’s 6 seats). Muhyiddin’s camp could also argue that it’s the effort of GRS as a coalition, not UMNO as a party alone, which wins the election.
Besides, Muhyiddin’s team could insist that UMNO’s choice for Sabah Chief Minister, Bung Moktar (and his wife) is currently facing corruption charges. It would be improper to nominate a scandal-plagued assemblyman to run the Borneo state. They could also claim that it was Muhyiddin’s popularity that had benefited every party in the loosely glued GRS alliance.
Muhyiddin has a bigger – and desperate – reason to win the Sabah chief minister post for his party. If the prime minister fails to get the post for Mohd Hajiji Noor, the Sabah PPBM Chief, it would mean PPBM will have to kowtow to UMNO during seat negotiations and allocations for the next 15th General Election. If that happens, it would also mean Muhyiddin may not continue as PM.
Likewise, if UMNO’s preferred candidate – Bung Moktar – fails to get the Sabah chief minister post, the party will lose its dominance and cannot claim the prime minister post after the next 15th General Election. Worse, the emboldened PM Muhyiddin may proceed to send Najib and Zahid to jail for money laundering, corruption and criminal breach of trust (CBT) charges.
While both PPBM and UMNO were fighting for the Chief Minister post, the third ally in the GRS alliance, PBS, also wanted to be rewarded accordingly. If PBS defects to Warisan, Shafie Apdal would get 39 seats, sufficient to form a 2-seat majority government in Sabah. Shafie would be more than willing to give PBS the post of deputy chief minister in exchange for the support.
UPKO was entrusted to deliver the votes of Kadazan-Dusun, the largest indigenous ethnic group in Sabah, to incumbent Warisan-Plus. But UPKO failed miserably – out of the 12 seats allocated, it managed to deliver only 1 seat. In the zero-sum game where tribal culture is still predominant in their lifestyle, the Kadazan-Dusun punished UPKO and voted for opposition PBS.
If both Jeffrey and Joseph join forces, their parties – STAR and PBS – could make or break the Sabah government of the day with their combined 13 votes. In fact, the Kitingan brothers control one-third of Muhyiddin’s GRS alliance in Sabah. Heck, they should ask for for the post of Sabah chief minister since neither Muhyiddin nor Zahid wishes to give way.
At the very least, STAR and PBS should demand for the post of deputy chief minister. Will Sabah get the comical two – even three – deputy chief ministers, one each for UMNO, STAR and PBS, in the event Muhyiddin managed to wrest the chief minister post? Based on the prime minister’s fetish for rewarding everyone, the new Cabinet of Sabah could become a laughing stock.
PM Muhyiddin as well as UMNO President Zahid realised that rival Shafie could become chief minister again if either STAR or PBS defects to Warisan-Plus. Shafie would get 38 seats (if STAR defects) or 39 seats (if PBS defects) if either of the Kadazan-Dusun party jumps to his camp. The burning question is – will Muhyiddin swing his support for Shafie instead?
However, the bombshell dropped by Anwar in the middle of Sabah election campaigning might have changed everything. The PM-in-waiting claimed he has majority support in the Parliament to topple Muhyiddin backdoor government. Anwar received an unexpected support from Zahid, who said a big chunk of UMNO and Barisan Nasional MPs have voiced their support for the Opposition leader.
To break the deadlock, Muhyiddin can use the opportunity to support Shafie instead. That will establish a bridge to gain the support from Shafie’s priceless 9 MPs. It raised eyebrows when Mukhriz Mahathir was seen at Shafie’s private residence on Saturday night. The next day (Sunday, Sept 27), Mukhriz announced that 18 MPs, including Shafie’s 9 MPs, will not support Anwar to form a new government.
It appears that a deal might have been brokered between Muhyiddin and Shafie through Mukhriz. It’s also worth noting that 3 days ago, Shafie’s lieutenant, Darell Leiking, said Warisan will never join forces with UMNO following Zahid’s statement of support for Anwar to launch a coup against the Perikatan Nasional backdoor government of Muhyiddin.
Warisan’s 32 seats would be boosted with PPBM’s 11 seats, enabling Shafie to become the Sabah chief minister again. It’s a small price to pay in exchange for not merely 9 MPs from Warisan, but potentially a bloc of at least 18 MPs (as claimed by Mukhriz) from Mahathir’s Pejuang (5 MPs), UPKO (1 MP), MUDA (1 MP) and Warisan (9 MPs).
However, the option of shifting support for rival Warisan is considered a betrayal and would jeopardise PPBM-UMNO’s already rocky relationship. More importantly, will Muhyiddin dare to call for a nationwide snap election as trumpeted by him during the Sabah election campaign now that GRS alliance has won? Perhaps PBS and STAR should quickly explore their options to get the best deal.