Sabah faces snap polls as state assembly is dissolved

Move comes after defections to ex-chief minister, who now has enough seats to form the majority

Sabah Chief Minister Shafie Apdal holding up the letter of dissolution of the state legislative assembly yesterday. An election has to take place within 60 days of the dissolution, and Datuk Seri Shafie will remain the caretaker chief until the polls
Sabah Chief Minister Shafie Apdal holding up the letter of dissolution of the state legislative assembly yesterday. An election has to take place within 60 days of the dissolution, and Datuk Seri Shafie will remain the caretaker chief until the polls take place.PHOTOS: BERNAMA

Malaysia's Sabah state will face a snap election after its state assembly was dissolved yesterday, following attempts by a former chief minister to form a new government after securing several defections.

Chief Minister Shafie Apdal announced the state assembly's dissolution at a press conference in Kota Kinabalu, saying the state's Governor Juhar Mahiruddin has consented to the dissolution.

"I met TYT (the governor) last night to express our intention, and then we made preparations, so this morning, I went to Istana around eight-something, and he approved this. I think it's time for us to return the mandate to Sabahans," Datuk Seri Shafie told reporters yesterday.

Former Sabah chief minister Musa Aman on Wednesday met the press with 31 other state lawmakers, and indicated he was ready to form a new government to replace the one led by Mr Shafie's Parti Warisan Sabah.

Another assemblyman defected yesterday, meaning Tan Sri Musa has the minimum 33 seats to form the majority in the 65-seat assembly.

Warisan is backed by the Pakatan Harapan (PH) opposition bloc, with Mr Shafie a staunch ally of former premier Mahathir Mohamad.

The election has to take place within 60 days of the dissolution. Mr Shafie will remain the caretaker chief of the East Malaysian state until the polls take place.

Only state assemblymen will be elected during the state election, with the 25 Sabah federal MPs retaining their wards.

The Sabah legislature has 60 elected lawmakers and five who are appointed by the reigning state government. Until Mr Musa's news conference on Wednesday, Mr Shafie's coalition controlled 45 of the 65 seats, or more than two-thirds.

The state polls will represent the first major political battle between the five-month-old Perikatan Nasional (PN) government and the PH-led opposition bloc.

The election in Sabah goes beyond the fight between two arch rivals - Mr Shafie, 63, and Mr Musa, 69.

Former Sabah chief minister Musa Aman (centre) with other state assemblymen on the grounds of his house after a media conference on Wednesday. The state polls will represent the first major political battle between the five-month-old Perikatan Nasion
Former Sabah chief minister Musa Aman (centre) with other state assemblymen on the grounds of his house after a media conference on Wednesday. The state polls will represent the first major political battle between the five-month-old Perikatan Nasional government and the Pakatan Harapan-led opposition bloc.

A victory for PN could help Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin entice several Sabah MPs to his alliance, thus securing a more comfortable majority in Parliament, where he holds only a two-seat majority.

PEOPLE'S MANDATE

I met TYT (the governor) last night to express our intention, and then we made preparations, so this morning, I went to Istana around eight-something, and he approved this.

I think it's time for us to return the mandate to Sabahans.

DATUK SERI SHAFIE APDAL, Sabah's chief minister, on the move to dissolve the state assembly.

The election will also be a litmus test for the federal opposition bloc, which remains split over its choice of a prime ministerial candidate.

The three-party PH is led by Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. The rest of the opposition MPs are lumped together under the so-called PH Plus alliance, consisting of MPs from Tun Dr Mahathir's group and those from Warisan led by Mr Shafie.

The cooperation and performance of the blocs led by Mr Anwar and Dr Mahathir in Sabah will be a crucial precursor for their working relationship at the federal level, with a national snap general election expected within the next few months.

The PN alliance led by Tan Sri Muhyiddin is now in control of nine out of the 13 Malaysian states, after successfully toppling PH-led state legislatures in Perak, Johor, Melaka and Kedah. Sabah is the first state to opt for a dissolution of the assembly, rather than allow itself to fall to PN by way of defections.

 
 
 
 

With Sabah's dissolution, PH and its partners are now left with just three state administrations in Selangor, Penang and Negeri Sembilan.

In the 2018 state assembly election, Mr Shafie's Warisan, along with PH parties, won 29 out of the 60 seats contested in the state assembly. Barisan Nasional (BN), led by Mr Musa, also won 29 seats, leading to a hung assembly.

But Mr Shafie managed to secure crossovers from several BN parties to form the state government.

Sabah is home to 3.4 million people, just over 10 per cent of Malaysia's population. Its economic output is the fifth-largest among Malaysia's 13 states, but it is one of the country's poorest states by gross domestic product per capita.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 31, 2020, with the headline 'Sabah faces snap polls as state assembly is dissolved'. Print Edition | Subscribe