KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - If you form a government with defectors, it wouldn't be surprising if it falls to defections. Could that be what's written for the Sabah state government?
The Parti Warisan Sabah/Pakatan Harapan (PH) /Upko government was formed after the Barisan Nasional (BN)/STAR Sabah government collapsed three days after the GE14 in 2018.
Bear with me as I run through numbers:
Barisan captured 29 seats - Umno 17, Parti Bersatu Sabah six, Upko five and Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah one.
Warisan won 21 seats. Its ally Pakatan Harapan obtained eight seats - Democratic Action Party (DAP) six and Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) two - so together the two allied parties had 29 seats.
Sabah STAR, which contested against Barisan as well as Warisan/Pakatan, scooped up two seats.
When you add it up, arguably, the Opposition won the state as Warisan, Pakatan and STAR all together got 31 seats.
With Barisan and Warisan/Pakatan having the same number of seats in the 60-seat state assembly, STAR became the kingmaker. STAR, headed by Tambunan assemblyman and Keningau MP Datuk Dr Jeffrey Kitingan, supported Barisan and they formed the Sabah government.
Tan Sri Musa Aman was re-appointed Chief Minister, a post he had held for 15 years.
But the two-day-old coalition collapsed when four Umno and two Upko assemblymen ditched Barisan to join the Opposition.
In a move that is still in dispute in court, the Yang di-Pertua Negeri Tun Juhar Mahiruddin appointed Warisan president Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal as Chief Minister, replacing Mr Musa, who insisted he didn't resign and neither had he been sacked from the post.
The Warisan/Pakatan/Upko government strengthened its position by appointing five nominated assemblymen, enlarging the state assembly to 65 legislators. More Barisan assemblymen jumped over to the state government.
Today, the state government has 47 assemblymen: Warisan 33, DAP seven, Upko five and PKR two.
The Perikatan Nasional coalition has 17 assemblymen: Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia nine, PBS four, STAR three and Umno one.
A nominated assemblyman, Jaffari Waliam, quit PKR when Pakatan collapsed in March. He is now an independent partial to Team Datuk Seri Azmin Ali of Bersatu.
Umno, which won the second most seats in Sabah during GE14, is left with one assemblyman, Mr Musa, after its legislators joined Warisan, Bersatu and Upko.
The Warisan/Pakatan/Upko Sabah government has a majority of 18 assemblymen. Is it enough to stop Perikatan's relentless efforts to bring it down? The Opposition needs 16 assemblymen to get a simple majority. Can it get 16 to defect?
"Do you want it expensive or cheap?" an Opposition political operative in Sabah asked when we were discussing whether the state government would fall.
"If you want it expensive, then you need to persuade the government assemblymen to jump. If you want it cheap, then you wait for the court to decide, " said the Sabahan who was in Kuala Lumpur to touch base with political contacts.
The operative was referring to Mr Musa's rightful chief minister case against Mr Shafie which has to go through two legal hurdles.
Firstly, the former chief minister and Sungai Sibuga assemblyman must be granted leave to appeal in the Federal Court against the Court of Appeal's Nov 28,2019, decision that dismissed Mr Musa's appeal on the grounds that it was "academic".
Secondly, if leave is granted, Mr Musa needs to win his appeal at the Federal Court.
A win would reverse both the High Court and Court of Appeal's decisions, and he will be declared the rightful chief minister of Sabah.
Another possibility, the political operative revealed, is that Mr Shafie might face a mutiny within the party he founded.
The rebel Warisan assemblymen would then form a state government with Perikatan. "Tonight, I'm meeting someone from the government side. I've been tasked to get this YB, " he said while we waited for his flight to Kota Kinabalu.
It is uncertain whether the Sabah government will collapse. What's certain is there are government assemblymen who won on Barisan's ticket in "bila lagi?" (when else?) mode to join Perikatan. Some assemblymen elected on the Warisan ticket are being tempted to defect.
"What is the reason for their possible defection?" mused the political operative. "Development funds and the enormous challenge of being an Opposition representative to maintain grassroots support."
He explained: Now that Warisan, Pakatan and Upko are in the Opposition at the federal level, it is not sustainable for them to govern the state. Warisan, a Pakatan ally, opted out of the Perikatan government.
Sabah needs federal funds, the political operative pointed out. Even though Perikatan is in the Opposition at the state level, it controls federal funds via the Sabah Federal Development Action Committee.
"All federal funds are coordinated by the powerful committee (comprising leaders from Bersatu, Umno, PBS, STAR and PBRS), and it is only a matter of time before the state government bleeds to death (financially). It is real and ominous. Remember the fate of PBS in 1990-1994?" he said.
The operative was referring to how the federal government then, led by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in his first iteration as Prime Minister, choked the PBS-led Sabah government by channelling funds to an Umno-controlled agency.
If there's a defection, when would it happen? It is a matter of timing.
On March 2 I set up a spreadsheet of Sabah assemblymen and their party affiliations to monitor the expected defections.
At the federal level, Pakatan government had collapsed and Bersatu's nine assemblymen were no longer with the Sabah government. Warisan was now in Opposition to the federal government.
Political operatives approached government assemblymen. Those tempted were told to fly to Kuala Lumpur to meet a Sabah politician who has the brains and money to trigger a collapse.
However, the federal government declared the movement control order, which came into force on March 18, and the plot was put on hold.
Now, the timing for the fall of the Sabah government depends on 1) Mr Musa's rightful CM court cases, or 2) getting enough government YBs to defect, or 3) a Warisan mutiny against Mr Shafie, or 4) stoping Mr Shafie from calling for snap polls.
The Opposition in Sabah has been relentless in enticing government assemblymen to cross over, acknowledged Warisan vice-president Datuk Junz Wong.
"They have been sending messages and offers are flying everywhere on the ground," said the state Agriculture and Food Industries Minister.
On whether former Barisan assemblymen were bent on leaving the government, Mr Wong said it is a struggle between their love for Sabah versus "money culture".
However, the Tanjung Aru assemblyman does not think that government assemblymen who stood as Opposition candidates in GE14 will be tempted to join Perikatan.
"Most of us were in the Opposition and went through hell fighting Umno and kicking BN out of Sabah, and now we want to let PN in?" he said.
Mr Wong is confident there would not be a mutiny in his party against Warisan president Shafie.
"For me, absolutely no. Last check on the ground, no, " he said.
Mr Wong claimed that Perikatan assemblymen would be crossing over to the Sabah government's side: "It is possible especially when Perikatan falls as the Federal government soon, " he said.
To paraphrase a Biblical saying, for all they that take defectors shall perish with the defectors.
The writer is a columnist with The Star. The Star is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 24 news media entities.