Malaysia's coalitions still deadlocked after candidate announcements for Sabah polls go awry

KOTA KINABALU – Parties from both sides of Malaysia’s political divide remained at loggerheads on Thursday (Sept 10) morning over who to field for the Sabah state polls, spurred by internal rivalries just days ahead of nominations.

Parties allied to Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s Perikatan Nasional (PN) camp abandoned a candidate announcement event, instead calling it a gathering of leaders amid a clash of potential chief ministers should they win at the state election on Sept 26.

Umno, the largest party in PN, instead handed out a list of 31 names to the press, which left out its influential former Sabah chief Musa Aman, and instead fielded another former chief minister, Datuk Seri Salleh Said Keruak.

Meanwhile, Tan Sri Muhyiddin’s Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia has delayed its unveiling to 3pm, with speculation rife that Tan Sri Musa will be fielded by a PN component.

“Other Umno leaders just don’t have the same resources as Musa does to help us win across the state,” a PN leader with knowledge of the matter told The Straits Times.

Mr Musa was Sabah’s chief minister for 15 years until the Umno-led Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition was ousted in 2018.

Another faction allied to PN, Parti Solidariti Tanah Airku Rakyat Sabah (Star), was also involved in the heated negotiations. Chief Jeffrey Kitingan flew back to Kota Kinabalu from Kuala Lumpur late on Wednesday for a final round of talks after his party was not allotted at least 15 out of the 73 available seats he demanded in an ultimatum issued on Monday.

Discussions are equally fraught at the rival camp with no certainty that overlapping claims have been ironed out.

The so-called Warisan Plus pact under outgoing Chief Minister Shafie Apdal went ahead with announcing 66 candidates – ahead of official nomination on Saturday for the Sabah polls – on Thursday morning, but minus those Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) are supposed to field.

This implies seven are left for opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s party, which insists on contesting in 14 wards, six more than the number of seats it contested in 2018.

“This increase is reasonable given the increase of seats in the assembly from 60 to 73,” Sabah PKR information chief Simsudin Sidek had said.

But Datuk Shafie told reporters “we are quite prepared for whatever consequences that we are going to face”.

Warisan president Shafie and PKR counterpart Anwar are also rivals at the federal level, with both men vying to be the opposition’s prime minister candidate in the next national election, which is widely expected to be held by early next year.

The Sabah state poll was triggered after Mr Musa drew defecting assemblymen to his camp, depriving Mr Shafie’s administration of a majority.

Mr Musa had hoped to helm the state government with the assemblymen aligned to him without going to the polls. However, the state governor chose instead to dissolve the assembly and call an election.

While the state election on Sept 26 does not directly affect which coalition forms Malaysia’s federal government, it is a bellwether of where voter loyalties lie. Sabah, a swing state, is a potential kingmaker in a general election as it is represented by 25 of the 222 lawmakers in Parliament, the third highest number after Sarawak and Johor.

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