KOTA KINABALU (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Sabah political parties have begun closed-door meetings in preparation for a snap election following the abrupt dissolution of the state assembly on Thursday (July 30).
Most took a break on the first day of the Hari Raya Haji celebrations on Friday but the next day, they began discussing potential candidates and seat sharing for the 73 seats up for grabs.
On the battlefield is the incumbent government led by Parti Warisan Sabah (Warisan) and its partners United Progressive Kinabalu Organisation (Upko) and Pakatan Harapan, comprising Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), Democratic Action Party (DAP) and Parti Amanah Negara (Amanah).
The Opposition is made up broadly of Sabah Umno-led Barisan Nasional and its allies Parti Bersatu Sabah, Sabah STAR and Sabah Bersatu.
Another emerging player is former foreign minister Anifah Aman who recently took over Parti Cinta Sabah and is planning to contest all the seats.
Warisan president Mohd Shafie Apdal, who was seen going for a walk at the Bukit Padang park on Saturday morning, remains an influential east coast Sabah Bajau leader but he needs to strengthen his party in the west coast and the interiors.
His coalition faces stiff challenges from Sabah Umno and Sabah Bersatu as well PBS and Sabah STAR in those areas.
Datuk Seri Shafie's influence in the east coast Sandakan parliamentary seat boosted DAP's victory in a by-election last year, with Ms Vivian Wong winning by a huge majority.
But Warisan failed to wrest the Kimanis parliamentary seat in the west coast from Umno earlier this year.
As for the Opposition, Sabah Umno chairman Bung Moktar Radin has hinted that the party wants to contest all its traditional seats.
That would leave little room for Sabah Bersatu, whose nine incumbent assemblymen were elected representatives from Umno.
Sabah Bersatu, which is led by west coast Bajau leader Hajiji Mohd Noor, has shown interest in 45 seats.
Datuk Seri Hajiji said they were prepared to discuss with other opposition parties to strengthen their position against the Warisan coalition.
This is so that they and Perikatan Nasional, Umno, and BN can combine their strength to ensure victory in the elections, he said.
Bersatu, which did not contest in Sabah during the 2018 general election, spread its wings to the state in April last year.
It was boosted by the defection of nine Sabah Umno assemblymen as well as its MPs.
The change of the political scenario at the national level in March saw Bersatu and Umno working together.
However, it is yet to be seen if Sabah Bersatu and Sabah Umno will strike an alliance.
As for Sabah PKR, it will finalise its line-up next week, promising to be "extra careful" in its choice of candidates.
With two of its assemblymen and one MP having defected, Sabah PKR chairman Christina Liew said: "We will assess them carefully.
"Every name we receive, we will screen their background thoroughly."
The assessment would include checks to a candidate's educational background, financial situation as well as political inclination, among others, she told reporters after meeting leaders of Inanam PKR whose assemblyman Kenny Chua was among 13 representatives who defected on Wednesday.
Despite his denials, Mr Chua supported Tan Sri Musa Aman's bid to oust the Warisan-led coalition government through a spate of defections by those from Upko, DAP and Warisan.
In March, PKR's Ranau MP Jonathan Yasin defected with Datuk Seri Mohd Azmin Ali's group.
Another nominated assemblyman, Mr Jaffari Walliam, also left. He joined the group of assemblymen who backed Mr Musa.
"I admit I was mistaken in recommending Jaffari as a nominated elected representative for PKR. As for Chua, I am disappointed in him," Datuk Liew said.
The party, she said, would not be affected by his crossover.
Ms Liew, who is Sabah Pakatan Harapan chairman, said they would also be discussing seat arrangements with DAP and Amanah.