Sabah state elections slated for Sept 26

Poll preparations to proceed despite legal challenge on state assembly's dissolution

Malaysia's easternmost state of Sabah will hold state assembly elections on Sept 26, the Election Commission said yesterday, amid an ongoing legal challenge on the validity of the assembly's dissolution.

The commission's acting chairman Azmi Sharom said nominations for candidates for 73 state assembly seats in Sabah will take place on Sept 12. There will be a 14-day campaigning period.

The commission said it will proceed with preparing for elections, despite an ongoing court challenge pursued by former chief minister Musa Aman. He is attempting to have the July 30 dissolution by Sabah Governor Juhar Mahiruddin declared invalid.

Tan Sri Musa had attempted to take over the state government with the defections of at least 13 state lawmakers, but his move was foiled when Tun Juhar consented to dissolve the legislature.

The High Court in Kota Kinabalu, the Sabah capital, is scheduled to decide on whether the case has merits only on Friday. "We have not received any order (on the court case), so we will continue with our preparations," Dr Azmi said at a press conference in Kota Kinabalu yesterday.

Around 1.1 million voters are eligible to take part in the statewide elections, according to the latest gazette of the electoral roll. Sabah, Malaysia's second-largest state by land size after Sarawak, has a population of 3.5 million.

The state polls are expected to be a crowded affair, with both Sabah-based parties and national parties from Peninsular Malaysia taking part. It will be the first major electoral battle since the Perikatan Nasional (PN) alliance, led by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, formed the federal government five months ago, following defections that caused the collapse of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) administration.

Incumbent Sabah Chief Minister Shafie Apdal will lead his Parti Warisan Sabah, along with his PH allies, into battle, while Mr Musa is largely expected to lead the PN charge in Sabah.

Mr Musa's younger brother, former federal minister Anifah Aman, has also thrown his hat into the ring, announcing that his new Parti Cinta Sabah, which is not aligned with either camp, will contest more than half of the 73 state seats.

Both Mr Musa and Datuk Seri Anifah are former Umno chieftains.

The 2018 elections saw Datuk Seri Shafie and Mr Musa, who was then incumbent chief minister, winning 29 seats each in the then 60-strong assembly.

But Mr Shafie ultimately managed to form the state government after securing several defections from Mr Musa's camp.

Mr Musa last month mounted a comeback after he was acquitted of corruption charges this year, and subsequently secured enough defections to gain a simple majority in the state assembly.

Sabah would have been the fifth PH-aligned state to have fallen to PN via defections if Mr Musa had succeeded.

However, Mr Shafie managed to obtain the governor's consent to dissolve the assembly instead and hold fresh elections.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 18, 2020, with the headline 'Sabah state elections slated for Sept 26'. Print Edition | Subscribe