KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's biggest political party, Umno, appeared to be in disarray as it tries to position itself ahead of the Sabah state election, as several warlords are engaged in a power struggle over who should be leading its campaign.
Umno is the opposition party in Sabah, after losing the state in the May 2018 general election, but it is hoping to supplant Parti Warisan Sabah in the Sept 26 polls by winning most of the 73 state assembly seats.
Warisan (Sabah Heritage Party) is led by its president, former Sabah chief minister Shafie Apdal, 63.
Warisan is also allied to the federal opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan (PH) and to the group of MPs led by former premier Mahathir Mohamad.
Warisan and its coalition allies were in firm control of Malaysia's easternmost state from 2018, until at least 13 of its assemblymen jumped ship to support Tan Sri Musa Aman, a former Sabah chief minister from Umno.
The toppling of Warisan was thwarted after Datuk Seri Shafie managed to persuade the state governor to dissolve the assembly.
The state polls will be held on Sept 26, with nominations on Sept 12.
Mr Musa, 69, an arch enemy of Mr Shafie, is leading one faction of Umno against Warisan and PHin the looming elections.
Mr Musa felt betrayed that the assembly was dissolved instead of allowing him to take over. "We still have three years to go till the end of the term of the assembly. It is not necessary for an election now, " Mr Musa said on July 30.
He was chief minister for 15 years between 2003 to May 2018, when Mr Shafie took over.
The central leadership of Umno, which claims membership of more than three million, has appointed a second Sabah warlord to lead the party in the September polls.
He is the current Umno Sabah chief, Bung Moktar Radin.
But the appointment of Bung Moktar is opposed by 12 Sabah Umno divisions - out of the total 25 divisions - who said they were not consulted on the matter.
The 12 are led by the third Sabah warlord, former Cabinet minister Abdul Rahman Dahlan, 54.
Datuk Seri Abdul Rahman said Bung Moktar would damage Umno's brand should he lead the campaign as he is facing corruption charges.
"Sabah has many high-calibre leaders and to appoint someone with personal problems is a huge insult to us and voters in Sabah," Mr Abdul Rahman told the media on Tuesday (Aug 18).
Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, himself facing corruption charges, defended the decision for Bung Moktar to lead the campaign as he is the head of Umno in Sabah.
In Malaysian politics, these Umno local chiefs are often called 'warlords' due to their perceived wide sphere of influence.
There is a fourth warlord who could spoil Umno's plan to recapture the state assembly, the younger brother of Mr Musa.
Datuk Seri Anifah Aman, 66, has left Umno and now heads Parti Cinta Sabah (Love Sabah Party), which hopes to be the third force.
He has this to say of his elder brother, on Aug 10: "As a Sabahan, I appreciate what Musa has done, but I think the time has passed and he should let new people take over.
"It's time to move on. What he had done previously might be right for that particular time, but the taste has changed."
Adding to the confusion of political parties and strong personalities, Umno will head into the election as part of the Perikatan Nasional (PN) alliance that rules the country.
PN is headed by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, president of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia.
Bersatu has its own ideas on who should be the next Sabah chief minister should PN wins - the fifth warlord, Hajiji Mohd Noor, 66.
Datuk Seri Hajiji left Umno for Bersatu when the new party was formed a Sabah branch after the 2018 elections.
The Warisan coalition led by Mr Shafie controlled 45 of the 65 state seats before 13 of them jumped to Mr Musa's side, that led to the assembly's dissolution.
In the Sept 26 polling, an expanded 73 wards will be up for grabs.