Unity government proposed for Sabah amid tussle for power

Sabah BN chief Bung Moktar (left) and Sabah Chief Minister Hajiji Noor in 2020. Sabah BN pulled out from the state government on Friday. PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK FILE

KUALA LUMPUR - A unity government has been proposed for Sabah in order to resolve a fresh political crisis in Malaysia after the state government lost its majority on Friday.

Lawmakers from the Sabah chapter of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition, which leads the federal government, raised the idea on Saturday, adding that they were against the dissolution of the state assembly.

Lawmakers from the Umno-led Barisan Nasional (BN) had pulled out of the 27-month-old state government led by Gabungan Rakyat Sabah (GRS), citing a loss of confidence in Chief Minister Hajiji Noor’s leadership.

“We agree that a Sabah unity government can be formed as has been done at the federal level,” PH’s seven state assemblymen said in a joint statement on Saturday.

“We do not agree for the state assembly to be dissolved if this crisis continues and the status of the state assembly remains hung,” they said, while affirming their support for Datuk Seri Hajiji.

The lawmakers did not explain how the unity government would look like.

At the federal level, PH, which won the most seats in November’s general election, formed a unity government with its main rival BN and other smaller alliances and parties.

Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim on Saturday told reporters that “the situation is under control for now”. He also said he has spoken to Mr Hajiji, and that his deputy and Umno president Zahid Hamidi has also spoken to Sabah BN chief Bung Moktar.

The state government needs to gain a simple majority of 40 seats in the 79-member state assembly, without which a snap election may have to be called.

Before the GRS-BN break-up, the coalition had 46 lawmakers – 29 from GRS and 17 from BN.

“GRS representatives have been asked to present their SDs (statutory declarations) to the governor to state who they support to be the chief minister,” the Free Malaysia Today news portal quoted an unnamed GRS source as saying.

Mr Hajiji was also seen entering the palace for an audience with the governor on Saturday.

Earlier, Datuk Seri Bung and Parti Warisan Sabah president Shafie Apdal had called for Mr Hajiji’s resignation, but his supporters insisted he remain the chief minister.

Five Umno assemblymen have refused to support the plot to topple the Sabah government, and have called for Mr Bung’s resignation from his party post.

“We regret that Sabah has again been dragged into an unnecessary political crisis. Together with the people of Sabah, we stand firm in our belief that this is not the time for grabbing power,” they said in a joint statement, pledging support for Mr Hajiji.

He was one of 16 lawmakers from Sabah who, in December 2022, quit Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, led by former premier Muhyiddin Yassin, following its loss in the November general election.

Mr Bung said on Friday: “We have lost confidence in Hajiji, and he has lost his locus standi (legal right) to remain chief minister after he quit Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia to become a direct member of GRS.”

In explaining why BN has pulled out of the state government, Mr Bung said the political understanding after the 2020 Sabah election was that BN would support Mr Hajiji as chief minister, and Mr Hajiji would, in turn, appoint BN members as his state Cabinet ministers and heads of state-owned government-linked companies.

“When he decided to ditch Bersatu (on Dec 8), the whole cooperation ended,” he said.

Mr Bung claimed that Mr Hajiji and GRS had also breached the cooperation agreement with BN by sacking Sabah Umno’s Usukan assemblyman, Datuk Seri Salleh Said Keruak, as chairman of state investment arm Qhazanah Sabah.

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