Sabah government set to fall to Malaysia PM Muhyiddin's coalition

It is understood that discussions between Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin (left) and Umno's Musa Aman have paved the way for the coup. PHOTOS: AFP, THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's Sabah state is on the verge of changing governments, with assemblymen formerly loyal to Chief Minister Shafie Apdal expected to defect to the Perikatan Nasional (PN) pact helmed by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.

Well-placed sources told The Straits Times that at least 14 assemblymen have agreed to desert Datuk Seri Shafie - a staunch ally of former premier Mahathir Mohamad - and back his predecessor and rival Musa Aman instead.

However, Tan Sri Musa has been unable to secure an audience with Sabah's ceremonial head of state, and it is understood that at least two potential defectors are wavering, leaving PN shy of the necessary numbers to topple Parti Warisan Sabah president Shafie.

"There may be more (defectors). But for now, we have to wait for an audience with the governor," a top PN official said.

If PN is successful, this would make Sabah the latest in a string of states lost by Pakatan Harapan (PH) and its allies after its federal government collapsed at the end of February.

PH was left without majority support in Parliament, after Tan Sri Muhyiddin led some 40 lawmakers out of the coalition.

PN currently controls nine of Malaysia's 13 state governments, having captured Johor, Melaka, Perak and Kedah, with PH confined to the country's richest state Selangor, Penang and Negeri Sembilan.

Mr Musa was Sabah's chief minister for 15 years until Umno's shock defeat in the May 2018 election to PH.

His comeback gathered momentum after all 46 counts of graft levelled against him, when PH was in power, were withdrawn on June 9.

Sources with knowledge of the impending changes in Sabah told ST that there had been dissent within the PN ranks as to who should head the government of the East Malaysian state, with Bersatu state chief Hajiji Noor among the front runners.

But it is understood that discussions between Bersatu president Muhyiddin and Mr Musa, brokered by Senior Minister for the Economy Azmin Ali, have paved the way for the coup.

However, Mr Musa's return to power must still obtain the assent of the state's Governor Juhar Mahiruddin, a founding member of Umno in Sabah.

If it is clear that Mr Shafie no longer commands support of the state assembly, Tun Juhar must ask him to resign. But Mr Shafie can also ask the governor to call for snap polls.

Mr Shafie is currently backed by 45 assemblymen, or two-thirds of the 65-seat state assembly. This means that the Bersatu-led opposition will need at least 13 defectors to secure power.

Several pro-Shafie lawmakers have claimed they have been enticed with up to RM32 million (S$10.4 million) each to switch camps.

Warisan's former law minister Liew Vui Keong insisted yesterday the Shafie administration is intact despite an ongoing "second wave" of attempts to topple it after several assemblymen had withdrawn their support for the chief minister last month.

A change in Sabah could significantly impact the federal situation, where the PN government holds only a slim majority with 113 of Parliament's 222 lawmakers.

Some of the 10 Sabah MPs currently in federal opposition could be persuaded to cross the floor, if PN takes over the state.

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