GRS victory in Sabah state election: What this means for PM Muhyiddin and politics at the federal level

GRS victory in Sabah state election: What this means for PM Muhyiddin and politics at the federal level

Perikatan Nasional supporters Sabah
Perikatan Nasional supporters at a rally during the Sabah state election. (Photo: Muhyiddin Yassin/ Facebook) 

KOTA KINABALU: The Gabungan Rakyat Sabah (GRS) coalition led by the Malaysian Prime Minister successfully toppled the Warisan Plus state government helmed by chief minister Shafie Apdal, after winning the state election on Saturday (Sep 26).

Of the 73 seats contested, GRS coalition parties won 38, giving the alliance the simple majority it needs to form a new state government. Warisan Plus took 32 seats and independent candidates won the remaining three seats.

As of Sunday afternoon (Sep 27), GRS component parties, including Barisan Nasional (BN), Perikatan Nasional (PN) and Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS), have not announced the identity of Sabah’s next chief minister, the person who will lead the new state government.

READ: Sabah head of state asks for more time to decide on chief minister post

Despite the delay, analysts CNA spoke to said the results have already sent ripples through the federal level.

Here is how the GRS victory in Saturday's election could affect Malaysia's political scene in the short term:

MUHYIDDIN CEMENTS PM POSITION

Mr Muhyiddin spent many days campaigning in Sabah on behalf of GRS. He urged Sabah residents to vote for GRS by unveiling a manifesto that promised more jobs, funds to develop infrastructure and more support for the poor.

In the middle of the campaign, Mr Muhyiddin also announced the “Kita Prihatin” package, which would provide financial help worth RM10 billion (US$2.4 billion) in the form of cash aid, assistance for small businesses and a wage subsidy scheme to help Malaysians get through the pandemic.

Muhyiddin and Sabah residents
Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin poses with Sabah residents in Luyang. (Photo: Prime Minister's Office) 

Associate Professor Ahmad Martadha Mohamed, who heads the Governance and Integrity Cluster at Universti Utara Malaysia’s College of Law, Government and International Studies, said the results indicated that Sabahans endorsed Mr Muhyiddin's leadership and what he offered to the people.

“Even though GRS did not win comfortably, it’s a clear, simple majority. This is a strong signal that Sabahans have supported the coalition under his leadership and will continue to endorse his credibility as prime minister,” he said.

Dr Romzi Ationg, a political researcher at Universiti Malaysia Sabah, said that the victories garnered by GRS component parties showed that the locals, many of whom are struggling to make a living in a coronavirus-ravaged economy, supported the financial aid and programmes Mr Muhyiddin promised.

“The common people in Sabah, many of whom are poor, are impressed with his performance leading this country amid the COVID-19 pandemic. He has implemented good economic programmes and the Movement Control Order has reduced the number of COVID-19 cases in the country,” said Dr Romzi.

Dr Oh Ei Sun, Senior Fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, pointed out that Mr Muhyiddin’s message - that the Sabah state government should be administered in line with the federal government - resonated with voters in Sabah.

“Now that GRS has won, it makes it easier for Sabah to administer development. The voters from Sabah were fully aware of this and they wanted development in the state. Message was received loud and clear,” said Dr Oh.

READ: Anwar claims parliamentary majority: What are the potential implications for Malaysia’s political scene?

ANWAR’S HOPES OF TAKING OVER DIMINISHED  

Analysts also pointed out that the results were a boost to Mr Muhyiddin’s position as prime minister amid political uncertainty at the federal level, after opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim announced on Wednesday that he had garnered a "strong, formidable, convincing majority" of Members of Parliament to overthrow the current government.

Mr Muhyiddin cast doubts on Mr Anwar’s claim, by pointing out that the PKR president did not the MPs who were supposedly backing him.

Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim
Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim speaks during a press conference at a hotel in Kuala Lumpur, Sep 23, 2020. (Photo: AFP/Mohd Rasfan)

Dr Oh said that GRS’ victory has poured cold water on Mr Anwar’s plan to wrest control of the federal government.

“I think irrespective of the results in Sabah, Anwar’s attempt to take over the federal government was never looking positive,” said Dr Oh.

“But with these results, with his party only winning two seats, it further cements the idea that Anwar was crying wolf, and that it’s all empty talk,” he added.

Assoc Prof Ahmad Martadha said that even before Saturday's poll results were announced, big coalitions in the federal government, such as Gabungan Parti Sarawak, had already denied that their lawmakers were backing Mr Anwar.

He noted that only BN chairman Ahmad Zahid Hamidi had said that many BN MPs had stated their support for Mr Anwar.

“They might now back down from supporting Anwar after seeing how Muhyiddin led GRS to a victory in Sabah,” said Assoc Prof Ahmad Martadha.

MUHYIDDIN NOW HAS MORE LEVERAGE AGAINST BN

Analysts also projected that the results have given Mr Muhyiddin and his Perikitan Nasional coalition more leverage against their allies in the federal government, Barisan Nasional.

Assoc Prof Ahmad Martadha said that the Sabah results showed that Mr Muhyiddin’s Perikatan Nasional coalition won 17 seats while Barisan managed just 14.

Sabah Political Wrap 03
Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) president Muhyiddin Yassin (third from right) praying together with Sabah Bersatu chief Hajiji Noor (third from left, in red), and Sabah United Malays National Organisation leader Abdul Rahman Dahlan (second from right) during nomination day of Sabah's state elections on Sep 12, 2020. (Photo: Facebook/Muhyiddin Yassin)

He predicted that this will give Mr Muhyiddin's coalition an edge in appointing Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) Sabah chief Hajiji Mohd Noor as the next chief minister over the coming days.

“When PM first nominated Hajiji to be the next chief minister during the campaign, there was some scepticism, especially from BN who wanted to nominate Bung Moktar (Radin) instead. “But with PN winning more seats, and with Parti Bersatu Sabah likely to stand behind them, I think Hajiji will now definitely be chief minister,” said Assoc Prof Ahmad Martadha.

GENERAL ELECTION COULD HAPPEN SOON

Dr Oh opined that strong support for Mr Muhyiddin’s Perikatan Nasional in Sabah would “strengthen his hand” in the next general election.

“Now that PN is performing quite well, he can stand up to UMNO in negotiating for seats and he can be quite confident that he will win the GE,” said Dr Oh.

During the course of campaigning in Sabah, Mr Muhyiddin also hinted that an early 15th General Election may be held if GRS wins the Sabah polls. 

Sabah voting elections
Sabah residents voting in the state elections on Sep 26, 2020. (Photo: Amir Yusof) 

Both Dr Oh and Assoc Prof Ahmad Martadha agreed that this will likely happen in the short term, now that Mr Muhyiddin has been boosted by a win in Sabah.

The latter predicted that polls will likely be called in January 2021.

“Parliament will sit in November when Muhyiddin will table the federal budget and MPs will debate that. December is a very difficult time to hold elections because the east coast of peninsular Malaysia will be suffering from the effects of the northeast monsoon, and there will be floods and other issues,” said Assoc Prof Ahmad Martadha.

“The best time to call it will be January, when the COVID-19 situation in Malaysia might have stabilised,” he added.

Source: CNA/am(ac)

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