COMMENT | Candidate Muhyiddin in Sabah election

Liew Chin Tong

Modified 17 Sep 2020, 5:41 am

COMMENT | I am currently in Sandakan to campaign for Warisan Plus. Along the main thoroughfares of Sandakan, posters adorned with the mugshot of Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin are ubiquitously displayed, as though he is the one contesting in the Sept 26 Sabah state elections.

Make no mistake, Muhyiddin's political fate hinges on the outcome of the elections. The stakes for Muhyiddin are extremely high, if not higher than that of incumbent Chief Minister Shafie Apdal.

It is a battle between Shafie and Muhyiddin!

Indeed, candidate Muhyiddin and his hatchet man-in-chief, Bersatu secretary-general and Home Minister Hamzah Zainudin triggered the dissolution of the Sabah state assembly. They should be made to pay for their attempt to topple the government mandated by the people of Sabah.

To get a clearer picture, let us revisit the events in late February to better understand why candidate Muhyiddin needed to topple Shafie's state government in the first place.

Premature coup

The Sheraton Move coup plotters made the foolish assumption that Shafie and former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad were on their side of the headcounts and they would have 130 MPs with them.

DAP, PKR and Amanah had 92 seats until Lubok Antu MP Tambat Jugah Muyang crossed over to Muhyiddin's side.

Mahathir and Shafie were not present at the Sheraton Hotel on the Sunday evening of Feb 23.

Mahathir refused to support the coup and subsequently resigned on Monday, Feb 24. In the midst of confusing talks concerning a unity government, Pakatan Harapan decided to support PKR president Anwar Ibrahim as PM candidate on Tuesday, Feb 25 and reiterated their support at the Istana Negara on Wednesday, Feb 26.

After the palace made a statement at 4pm on Friday, Feb 28, we managed to re-establish communications between Anwar and Mahathir, and held a talk to regroup in a meeting at the latter's private residence at 8pm.

Anwar's side agreed to realign with Mahathir, and that message was conveyed to him at 8am on Saturday, Feb 29.

I was in the room.

Immediately, Muar MP Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman called Penampang MP Darell Leiking who was with Shafie. Over the phone, Shafie pledged Warisan's support for the grand Harapan government under Mahathir's leadership.

The die was cast on the fateful morning of Feb 29, very much by Shafie. Although Muhyiddin was sworn in as prime minister on March 1, his fantasy of governing with 130 seats was denied by Mahathir and Shafie. Muhyiddin's government was limping with a single-digit majority from the get-go, now at 113 versus 109.

Harapan Plus was able to hold on to 109 and not 91 or 92 seats due to the pivotal role played by Shafie and Warisan.

Sabah leads Malaysia

After years of being subservient to an Umno-dominated federal government, Sabahans instinctively do not believe that Sabah could decide the future of Malaysia.

But Shafie and the Sabah MPs have been the thorn in Muhyiddin's flesh, setting the rules of the game for Muhyiddin from Feb 29 onwards.

Muhyiddin then sent Hamzah to Sabah on several alleged "shopping trips" to find "beautiful Sabah handicrafts". Finally, on July 29, a day after former prime minister Najib Abdul Razak was sentenced to 72 years in jail; former Sabah chief minister Musa Aman announced that he had the support of the majority in the state assembly.

And lest we forget – on June 9, the Attorney-General's Chambers dropped 46 counts of corruption charges against Musa.

In short, the Sabah state election was triggered by candidate Muhyiddin who attempted to topple Shafie's government due to the lynchpin role Shafie played in sustaining the 109 seats on the national opposition side.

Upsetting 'the scheme of things'

On July 30, Sabah Governor Juhar Mahiruddin consented to Shafie's request to dissolve the state assembly in order to return the mandate to the people of Sabah.

On Sept 26, if Warisan Plus wins a convincing majority of 40 or more seats, Muhyiddin's days as prime minister are numbered.

First to feel the impact would surely be Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS).

GPS was never a natural ally of PAS; while its rhetoric over the years, especially during former Sarawak chief minister Adenan Satem's stewardship, was predominantly anti-Umno.

Umno with Najib and its president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi as its poster boys is certainly not electorally attractive. A strong Shafie and Warisan Plus victory would put an immense amount of pressure on GPS.

The not-so-friendly fires between Perikatan Nasional, BN and Parti Bersatu Sabah in the course of the Sabah state elections also severely question the viability of Muhyiddin's government.

Hajiji Mohd Noor

This is probably the first time in Malaysian history in which a prime minister's words bring little to no consequence and impact at all on its coalition partners, as can be seen by BN's rejection of Sabah Bersatu chief Hajiji Mohd Noor as the candidate for chief minister despite being named by Muhyiddin.

Sabah voters are not only deciding the fate of Shafie's chief-ministership and to choose which party to lead the state for the next term. This Sabah state election will decide whether or not Muhyiddin would still remain as prime minister in the near term.

The stakes can never be higher for candidates Shafie and Muhyiddin.

This article was first published in

LIEW CHIN TONG is a senator and ex-deputy defence minister.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.