KUALA LUMPUR - The states of Sabah and Sarawak may be represented by one, or possibly even two, new deputy prime ministers (DPMs) after Malaysia’s general election.
The two main political coalitions battling for power have dangled the promise of creating the post, or posts, for Malaysia’s two largest states by area – should they win federal power.
Should this come to pass, it would be the states’ first seat at the table since Malaysia’s independence in 1957, as all 13 DPMs have come from Peninsular Malaysia.
The two states – which together account for 56 seats in Parliament, or 25 per cent of the total 222 – are being wooed as rival coalitions Barisan Nasional (BN) and Pakatan Harapan (PH) vie for power in the Nov 19 polls.
Sarawak has the most number of MPs at 31, while Sabah has the third-largest at 25, after Johor’s 26.
Ruling coalition BN had 42 seats in the just-dissolved Parliament, while opposition bloc PH had 90.
Both are in a race to forge pacts with parties in Sabah and Sarawak to secure a majority in Parliament at the upcoming federal election, in order to form the next government.
BN chairman and Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, while campaigning in Sabah on Sunday, said the coalition may include having three DPMs in its manifesto – one each for the two giant states, and one for Peninsular Malaysia.
“There is nothing wrong with having three deputy prime ministers as the position itself is not mentioned in the Federal Constitution,” he said, as reported by Malaysian media.
Asked about this on Monday, Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said the proposal must first form part of the BN manifesto, which is still being worked out.
“We don’t know yet. Let us win the general election first. If it’s part of the manifesto, of course, it will be enforced,” he said, as quoted by Malaysiakini news site.
Responding to the proposal, PH leader Anwar Ibrahim said via an aide that there would be two DPM posts – one from Peninsular Malaysia, and the other to represent Sabah and Sarawak.
In the past, Malaysia’s DPMs have played a low-profile role, and sometimes held other Cabinet positions.
When PH won power in 2018, it appointed Datuk Seri Anwar’s wife, Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, as DPM but did not appoint a second DPM.
Mr Ismail did not appoint any deputy, instead installing four senior ministers, including one from Sarawak.
The small Parti Bersatu Sabah, which held one parliamentary seat, described the jousting coalitions’ proposals as “long overdue”. However, not all politicians from Sabah and Sarawak are enamoured by the proffered sweetener.
Datuk Azis Jamman, information chief of Parti Warisan Sabah which held seven seats, said on Monday: “Sabahans and Sarawakians are not stupid. We don’t need this election candy. It’s promise after promise, but no progress is made regarding state rights.”
He was referring to the fight for greater autonomy for the two states, including having the right to mine their own oil and gas deposits, and better access to federal funds.