DPM position on offer, as Malaysian political parties flock to Sabah after GE15 announcement
The deputy prime minister position has typically only gone to someone from Peninsular Malaysia.
KOTA KINABALU: Malaysia’s major political parties headed eastward in the first weekend after the announcement of the date for the country’s next general election, as they vied for the support of traditional kingmaker state Sabah.
Among the promises doled out so far is the offer of a deputy prime minister position, with two competing coalitions raising it to rally support. The role has typically only gone to someone from Peninsular Malaysia.
The pace of the parties’ outreach in Sabah even before the official campaigning period has surprised observers, as political leaders attempt to secure what could make or break a coalition’s fate at the 15th General Election (GE15) on Nov 19.
SIGNIFICANCE OF SABAH
With 25 parliamentary seats at stake, a win in Sabah is seen as crucial for any coalition looking to form the country’s next government.
The eastern states of Sabah and Sarawak together hold a quarter of Malaysia's total parliamentary seats. They have long been branded kingmakers, as any coalition they choose to back would likely form the government.
Over the long weekend, political leaders were busy lending star power to their parties’ campaigns there.
The ruling coalition’s big wigs, Barisan Nasional (BN) chairman Zahid Hamidi and Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, were all on the ground, along with Mr Anwar Ibrahim, leader of the opposition Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition.
Local parties also took the opportunity to drum up support, including Sabah's main opposition leader Shafie Apdal of Warisan and the state’s Chief Minister Hajiji Noor, who leads the ruling Gabungan Rakyat Sabah.
The flurry of activity to woo voters in the Borneo state comes as no surprise, said Professor James Chin, an Asian Studies expert from the University of Tasmania, though it is unusual the parties are reaching out so early in the campaign.
“What I'm surprised (about) is that they are all coming this particular weekend at the same time. Normally they will spread their visits because they do not want everyone to rush to just a single event and ignore other events,” he noted.
STRATEGY FOR SABAH
Over the weekend, party leaders took the opportunity to share their visions for Malaysia and for Sabah.
Warisan said it would push to reset Malaysia, adding that it aims to bring the country back on track from political instability and deal with issues that concern Malaysians.
Meanwhile, BN chairman Zahid promised to improve Sabahans' lives, and push for a deputy prime minister from Sabah if his team wins the upcoming elections.
This echoes opposition leader Anwar’s earlier declaration that he would appoint two deputy prime ministers if his PH coalition emerges victorious, one of whom will be from an East Malaysian state.
During his visit, Mr Anwar also roused the crowd with his tagline of reforming the government, pushing to get rid of corruption, abuse of power and giving the people a voice, a platform he ran on back in the last election.
Prof Chin said that this time round, politicians are especially eager to vie for the support of Sabahans, due to the local opposition towards Putrajaya.
"The signal is because of the strong anti-federal sentiments on the ground,” he said. “They are trying to show that people on the peninsula side, or the Malayan political leaders, care about Sabah.”
While the parties are still finalising their election strategies and manifestos, before revealing their candidates for the 56 federal seats in Sabah and Sarawak, their work is already cut out for them.
On the national level, voters want political stability and for the economy to improve.
Meanwhile, at the Borneo states level, they want greater autonomy from the federal government in Putrajaya, better infrastructure and development, along with a bigger share of Malaysia's oil and gas revenue that come from the vast resources in Sabah and Sarawak.
However, observers say such an appointment is just decorative, and would not really benefit people in Sabah and Sarawak.
“I think this offer of deputy premiership for East Malaysia is a very politically expedient and, shall we say, a convenient one, because in Malaysia the post of deputy prime minister is essentially powerless,” said Dr Oh Ei Sun, senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs.