KOTA KINABALU - Parties allied to Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin have openly clashed with their own allies over the 73 seats at stake in the Sabah state polls, exposing internal rivalries just two days before nominations.
They abandoned a joint candidate announcement event on Thursday (Sept 10) morning, instead calling it a gathering of leaders amid a clash of potential chief ministers should they win the Sept 26 vote.
Umno - which leads the Barisan Nasional (BN) pact - instead handed out a list of 31 names to the press, which left out its influential former Sabah chief Musa Aman, and instead fielded another ex-chief minister, Datuk Seri Salleh Said Keruak.
But Tan Sri Muhyiddin's Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition led by his Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia revealed 29 candidates in the evening, with three in wards that clash with BN parties.
Sabah Bersatu chief Hajiji Noor claimed PN was not aware of the overlaps as "I don't have the candidate list from other parties yet".
“But if its true we hope that one of the candidates, either PN or BN can withdraw. Nomination day is on Saturday so we have time tomorrow, we will try to resolve it,” he told reporters.
Parti Bersatu Sabah also announced it would contest 15 seats, with eight overlapping those claimed by other Muhyiddin allies including three with Umno.
While the state election does not directly affect which coalition forms Malaysia’s federal government, it is a bellwether of where voter loyalties lie.
Sabah, a swing state, is a potential kingmaker in a general election as it is represented by 25 of the 222 lawmakers in Parliament - the third highest number of MPs after Sarawak and Johor.
Sabah Umno chief Bung Moktar Radin insisted that Tan Sri Musa, a rival for the chief ministership favoured by a faction within Bersatu, was not picked as he "never requested" a seat.
Mr Musa was Sabah's chief minister for 15 years until the Umno-led Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition was ousted in 2018.
Discussions are equally fraught at the rival camp with overlapping claims only ironed out late Thursday.
The so-called Warisan Plus pact under outgoing Chief Minister Shafie Apdal went ahead with announcing 66 candidates - ahead of official nomination on Saturday for the Sabah polls - on Thursday morning, but minus those Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) are supposed to field.
This left seven districts for Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim's party, which had insisted late Wednesday on contesting in 14 wards, six more than the number of seats it contested in 2018.
But Datuk Shafie told reporters "we are quite prepared for whatever consequences that we are going to face".
Although Sabah PKR youth information chief Razeef Rakimin warned of a "protest vote when they see Warisan behaving like a party that is greedy for seats", the state chapter eventually accepted the deal.
"The decision was confirmed and endorsed by the President of PKR and the party’s Secretary-General (Headquarters) to support the decision of the local leaders in the best interests of Sabah," state PKR chief Christina Liew said.
Warisan president Shafie and PKR counterpart Anwar are rivals at the federal level, with both men vying to be the opposition's prime minister candidate in the next national election, which is widely expected to be held by early next year.
The Sabah state poll was triggered after Mr Musa drew defecting assemblymen to his camp, depriving Mr Shafie's administration of a majority.
Mr Musa had hoped to helm the state government with the assemblymen aligned to him without going to the polls. However, the state governor chose instead to dissolve the assembly and call an election.