State Election a Harbinger of Snap General Election . . .
Approximately 1.2 million eligible voters in the Malaysian state of Sabah will head to the polls on September 26 in what is shaping up to be the country’s most unusual election in its history – a total of 447 candidates from 16 political parties are running for 73 seats. Sabah, Malaysia’s second-largest and third most populous state, is located on Borneo island and is home to some 42 ethnic groups. Despite being a resource-rich state – particularly in oil and gas – it remains among the country’s poorest, lagging behind peninsular Malaysia on critical infrastructure and public services like electricity, internet connectivity, health care, and education.
Clash of coalitions and historical grievances . . .
While the political contest includes multiple independent parties, the bulk of the fielded candidates align with two major party coalitions. The current state chief minister, Shafie Apdal, will defend his seat under Warisan Plus, which appeals to the ‘Sabah’ identity as unique from the rest of Malaysia and advocates increasing the state’s administrative rights over local policies and royalties from natural resource revenues. Warisan Plus faces strong opposition from the Gabungan Rakyat Sabah (GRS) coalition, in line with Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin and his Perikatan Nasional federal government. The election has stirred up decades-old issues harking back to the creation of the modern Malaysian state, mainly the status of Sabah and Sarawak as territories with comparable ‘partners’ to peninsular Malaysia as opposed to their current ‘demoted’ status of states under a federal government.
A bellwether for Malaysia’s general election . . .
Political observers agree that Sabah’s polls will be an indicator of public support for Prime Minister Muhyiddin and his Perikatan Nasional (PN) government. With the country’s general election slated for 2023, the outcome in Sabah will influence Muhyiddin’s decision to call a snap election by early next year. PN politicians have urged the PM to call a snap election if GRS proves successful in Sabah. This result may be difficult to achieve given GRS has presented a fragmented front so far, fielding competing candidates for the same seats in Sabah and internally competing for the chief minister post. By comparison, the incumbent Warisan Plus has internally agreed on its 73 candidates. It may leverage a sentiment for political change in Sabah since 2018, rather than returning to the status quo with Bersatu and UMNO in power.
- Kini News Lab: Sabah decides 2020
- Malay Mail: Muhyddin says Sabah poll could set stage for general election
- New Naratif: What is MA63? And why it is important to Sabah and Sarawak