Three key takeaways from Sabah Election 2020

KOTA KINABALU, Sept 27 — Most analysts had predicted that the Sabah state election would be a tight race, with the Warisan Plus government having a slight advantage. The fact that Parti Warisan Sabah ended up six seats behind the Gabungan Rakyat Sabah Opposition alliance came as a surprise to many.

In a drama-ridden two weeks, a record 447 candidates vied for voters in 73 seats, where 66.6 per cent of 1.124 million voters came out to vote.

Out of that number, 275, or more than 60 per cent, lost their deposit, including former chief minister Tan Sri Chong Kah Kiat, who ran in a 10 cornered fight in Inanam.

The Election Commission initially targeted a 75 per cent turnout, but the risk of contracting Covid-19 deterred many Sabahans living in West Malaysia and abroad from making the trip home.

1. KDM rejects Shafie’s Warisan

Despite a solid campaign of multiculturalism and unity, Parti Warisan Sabah president Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal failed to make inroads in the non-Muslim native community, known as KDM for the Kadazandusun and Murut communities, a crucial vote base that was already split amongst a crowded opposition. Theoretically, Warisan should have been able to capitalise on this, but it did not materialise.

One of the possible reasons is the lack of credible KDM candidates and leaders. Aside from deputy president Datuk Darell Leiking and Datuk Peter Anthony, Shafie lost in most of the KDM seats in the gray areas.

His KDM ally, United Party Kinabalu Organisation (Upko), lost in all but one of the 12 seats it contested, including president Datuk Seri Wilfred Madius Tangau’s seat in Kiulu.

The long-suffering KDM community is suspicious of Shafie’s background, believing him to be of Philippine descent and loyalties which will not rid the state of its perennial illegal immigrant problems.

Shafie was criticised for wanting to regulate the immigrants in the state through the Sabah Temporary Pass which he cancelled following defeat in the Kimanis by-election.

But knowing this, Shafie went all out campaigning for the KDM vote, even getting former chief justice Tan Sri Richard Malanjum and former chief minister Tan Sri Bernard Dompok stumping for him.

2. Muhyiddin’s rising popularity and state-federal relations

Sabahans, especially in rural areas, crave development and a better quality of life. The crux of the Opposition’s argument was that federal funds and cooperation were severely needed to give the state a much needed socio-economic boost.

Perikatan Nasional via Bersatu and STAR won a bulk of seats — 17 — indicating that federal and state cooperation was a big factor. Parti Solidarity Tanah Airku’s controversial decision to use the PN logo also paid off handsomely, tripling their representation from two seats in GE14 to six seats this time.

A local think tank said that a last-minute swing in support from BN to PN tipped the scales in PN’s favour due to Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s increasing popularity in rural areas. His narrative of having done well to keep the country afloat during the Covid-19 pandemic with stimulus packages and aid to the bottom and middle 40 groups paid off.

There is a clear divide between the urban and semi-urban Sabahans compared to the grassroots as all seats within major cities and towns gave resounding support to Shafie’s Warisan Plus candidates. This divide is likely to widen gradually if the issues regarding illegal immigrants and lack of development go unsolved.

3. Party hopping and clashes did not affect voter confidence

There were clear cracks in both political divides as parties disagreed with seat allocations from the start but the gap widened in the Opposition side as PBS vs STAR and Umno vs Bersatu went on right till polling day.

In the 17 seat clashes between GRS, Warisan only capitalised on five, which were all incumbents.

Urban voters were in support of Warisan, openly condemning party hoppers who triggered the election, but in rural seats, voters were not swayed by the drama.

Despite Warisan Plus’s anti-frog campaign, many who contested still retained their seats.

Bersatu’s Kuala Penyu candidate Datuk Limus Jury, Umno’s Sugut candidate Datuk James Ratib, STAR’s Datuk Abidin Madingkir and Kuamut incumbent and independent assemblyman Datuk Masiung Banah all retained their seats.

Bersatu fielded eight lawmakers who defected from Umno post GE14 and all but one —  Sebatik’s Abdul Muis Picho — won.

The election may be over but at the time of writing, Opposition camps are still holed up in separate locations, trying to come to a consensus over which party the next Sabah chief minister should come from.

(c) NST Julia Chen

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