Sabah leaders must decide who will lead the state, says Malaysia PM Anwar

(From left) Deputy prime minister Zahid Hamidi, Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim and Chief Minister Hajiji Noor met on Jan 9, 2023. PHOTO: FOTOBERNAMA

KOTA KINABALU – Sabah’s political leaders will have to decide who will lead the state to end the political turmoil, said Malaysia’s Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim.

He was in the state capital to meet political leaders on Monday night and said he would not interfere with Sabah’s political decisions.

“The situation is getting better. Zahid and I are finding the best formula for Sabah. The state leaders will decide… we can only give advice,” he said, referring to Deputy Prime Minister Zahid Hamidi.

It is understood that Datuk Seri Anwar did not give the state leaders any time frame to settle the issue.

Mr Anwar arrived in Sabah on Monday night from his first official overseas visit to Indonesia as prime minister. He arrived at Kota Kinabalu International Airport around 10pm. Zahid, who is also Umno’s president, arrived in Kota Kinabalu on Monday evening.

Both met the state leaders immediately after Mr Anwar arrived. However, it is not clear what was suggested to resolve the high-stakes political games.

The creation of a “unity government” is said to be on the table for discussion, but the question is what shape and form are agreeable to all at the state level as all four parties are part of Mr Anwar’s unity government at the federal level.

Embattled Chief Minister Hajiji Noor’s Gabungan Rakyat Sabah (GRS) is believed to be offering to maintain the status quo on the GRS-Barisan Nasional pact, but with the inclusion of Sabah Pakatan Harapan.

On the other side, Barisan – led by its state chairman Bung Moktar Radin – is pushing for a unity government that also includes Parti Warisan led by Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal, and Parti Kesejahteraan Demokratik Masyarakat (KDM) led by Datuk Peter Anthony.

Raising the stakes from the opposing bench, the Barisan-Warisan-KDM camp is widely speculated to be asking for Datuk Seri Hajiji to be replaced with anyone else.

They even would not object to GRS’ Sabah Parti Solidariti Tanah Airku president Jeffrey Kitingan as an option.

Political analyst Tony Paridi Bagang said it would be a major test for Mr Anwar to do something without being seen as interfering in state politics.

“This will be a litmus test for Anwar’s ability to mediate and reach an amicable solution to the current political crisis,” said Mr Bagang, a Sabah Universiti Teknologi Mara lecturer.

“He needs to be politically neutral to avoid the perception that Kuala Lumpur/Putrajaya is dictating local politics here.”

Mr Bagang said Mr Anwar’s meeting with all parties is an attempt to suggest a political win-win situation in the spirit of the unity government at the federal level.

“A stable government is greatly needed, and there must be a political compromise with all parties if they put the people’s interests (first),” he added.

GRS secretary-general Masidi Manjun said they had no expectations of Mr Anwar’s visit.

“We respect and thank him for taking time out of his busy schedule to see us,” said Datuk Seri Masidi, who held a pre-council Sabah assembly meeting with Mr Hajiji and state assemblymen.

The Sabah crisis was triggered after Sabah Barisan pulled out of the 27-month-old GRS-Barisan coalition government led by Mr Hajiji last Friday.

The key issue was that Mr Hajiji no longer had the legitimacy to remain chief minister as he was party-less after he led GRS assemblymen out of Bersatu to become direct members of GRS on Dec 8, Datuk Seri Bung Moktar had said.

However, Mr Hajiji’s camp argued that GRS was a political entity allowing direct members and not only a coalition for parties.

Barisan’s move to pull out the support of 18 Umno assemblymen left the Hajiji government without a majority.

By Saturday, Mr Hajiji had garnered the support of 44 assemblymen, including five Umno dissidents and seven Sabah Pakatan state representatives.

On Sunday, Mr Hajiji told the media he had the majority and handed statutory declarations of support from the 44 assemblymen to Governor Juhar Mahiruddin.

Mr Bung Moktar has aligned his remaining 13 Barisan assemblymen with Warisan’s 19 assemblymen and KDM’s three representatives, giving them 35 assemblymen, five seats short of the 40 seats required for a majority.

He said Mr Hajiji should accept the proposal by Mr Anwar to end the current political crisis, adding that the unity government proposal will guarantee the interests and well-being of the people of Sabah.

“I am confident that the current political temperature will cool off and bring stability to the state government through such an agreement,” Mr Bung Moktar said.

Mr Shafie, Warisan’s president, said his party fully supports Mr Anwar’s proposal for a unity government in Sabah.

“After our meeting with Anwar on Monday night, all of Warisan’s 19 assemblymen agree to fully support the proposal for a unity government in Sabah,” he said.

Political observers are watching to see if Sabah’s Pakatan will continue supporting Mr Hajiji, as Mr Anwar had indicated that Pakatan would remain neutral in the Sabah impasse. Another piece of baggage in Mr Hajiji’s camp is the support of two nominated assemblymen, Sabah Progressive Party president Yong Teck Lee and Sabah Parti Islam SeMalaysia secretary Aliakbar Gulasan.

Both parties are members of Perikatan Nasional, which is the Opposition at the federal level.

Observers said that if Sabah Pakatan withdraws its support, it would leave the GRS and Barisan groups without a simple majority.

Others are also watching if Zahid will change the stand of the Barisan-Umno dissidents in their support for Mr Hajiji.

A special Sabah assembly meeting on Tuesday to table a state Bill for establishing an oil and gas regulatory body could also be used as a venue for Mr Hajiji to get the endorsement for his position as chief minister.

Istana Negeri has yet to set a date for him to swear in his Cabinet ministers amid talk that Tun Juhar was seeking advice on the legal issues surrounding Mr Hajiji’s position as chief minister.

If all else fails, Sabah might head for another snap election – polls are not due until after September 2025. THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.