Sabah's opposition parties remain divided, though elections are near

KOTA KINABALU (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Though the Malaysian general election is just around the corner, Sabah opposition parties are struggling to avoid a free-for-all fight as they have failed to agree to an electoral pact.

Elections in Sabah often benefit the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition due to multi-cornered fights involving several opposition parties, analysts have said.

In the 2013 national polls, there were two seven-cornered fights for Sabah state seats, and six constituencies featuring six contenders.

BN today controls 21 out of the 25 Sabah parliament seats. BN also has a supermajority in the Sabah state legislature with 48 out of the 60 wards.

A new opposition party in the Borneo state led by former Umno vice-president Shafie Apdal is adding to the already long list of Sabah-based opposition parties.

Datuk Seri Shafie's Parti Warisan Sabah appears adamant on going it alone.

It has asked national-based Pakatan Harapan (PH) parties to stay out of Sabah, although these PH members had contested in past elections.

"It looks like Shafie prefers to talk at the national level and he does not really want to talk to us directly," a PH source said, adding they had asked PH chairman Tun Mahathir Mohamad to speak to him.

PH consists of four opposition parties based in Peninsular Malaysia, with one of its members Democratic Action Party (DAP) holding two parliament seats in Sabah.

The DAP and another PH member Parti Keadilan Rakyat have seats in the state assembly.

BN leader Prime Minister Najib Razak is expected to call the elections, due by August this year, in the first half of the year.

BN touts Sabah and neighbouring Sarawak state as its "fixed deposit" states, partly because the opposition parties in these two Borneo states often fought against one another in the elections.

In Peninsular Malaysia, the four PH parties have agreed on seat distruction in the coming elections.

In Sabah, Warisan's Mr Shafie, according to opposition leaders, has rejected the idea of holding talks with opposition parties grouped under the United Sabah Alliance, or USA.

He has accused some of the USA leaders as being friendly to BN.

The USA members include STAR party, Parti Harapan Rakyat Sabah and Sabah Progressive Party.

Sabah DAP secretary Chan Foong Hin said the party has yet to reach any consensus on a pact with Warisan or other local parties.

"Time is running out. We need to formalise a united opposition seat arrangement," he said.

Mr Shafie has maintained that Warisan supports the PH opposition alliance at the national level but wants their parties to stay out of Sabah.

"I don't want to be in Pakatan as we will be tied down. Sabah can be ruled by a state party and we can work with them," he told a political gathering last week.

Mr Shafie has emerged as the main Muslim bumiputera opposition leader.