PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Plans are afoot for Sabah to go it alone in a snap state election that may be held as early as April.
It is understood that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak has given the nod to the polls proposal but has asked for a detailed evaluation of all the seats before a final decision is made.
The hush-hush evaluation study will involve a risk analysis of the 60 state seats, with a well-placed Sabah source saying the report is expected to be ready next month.
"A positive report will mean an early election," said the source.
The potential date for the polls also hinges on the redelineation exercise currently under way which will result in an additional 13 state seats for Sabah.
The idea of holding separate polls has been simmering since June last year after Barisan Nasional's success in the Sarawak state election.
It gained traction especially after Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal quit Umno in July and went on to form Parti Warisan Sabah (Warisan) with cross-over politicians from Democratic Action Party (DAP) and Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR).
However, speculation intensified following a state Umno liaison meeting during which Chief Minister and state Umno chairman Datuk Seri Musa Aman instructed everyone to be ready and to work as though "elections was every day".
Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) president Datuk Seri Joseph Pairin Kitingan added to the suspense when he told the media that Sabahans could be in for a surprise and that "anything is possible".
However, Mr Musa, who is known as Sabah's "smiling tiger", has since urged everyone to "calm down" and not go into overdrive speculating about the polls.
"The prerogative lies with the Chief Minister after discussion with the Prime Minister.
"I am confident Sabahans will vote for continued stability and development," said Communications and Multimedia Minister Datuk Seri Salleh Said Keruak.
Proponents for early polls want to take advantage of the disarray in the Sabah opposition parties and to ride on the federal campaign machinery like what happened in Sarawak.
The Sabah-based opposition parties have yet to reach any consensus to go one-on-one against Barisan while the national opposition PKR and DAP have been weakened by a spate of defections.
"For now, it looks like a free-for-all in the opposition camp. It is the best time to strike. A bigger opposition field is an advantage to us," said a Barisan official.
Strategically speaking, a big win in Sabah will deal a crippling blow to Pakatan Harapan and set the tone for the general election in the peninsula.
However, any reduction in seats won would be big setback for Barisan.
Another concern for the ruling coalition is how to handle the infighting among Umno warlords who are famous for their acts of sabotage.
The last general election saw the opposition coalition gain ground with 12 of the 60 state seats and three out of 25 parliament seats.
But defections have left Pakatan with only two parliament and four state seats.
Sabah previously held state polls separately from the general election but has gone together with it since 2004.