Brace for open season in Sabah, analyst says after double exit from Upko

Chief Minister Shafie Apdal (centre) meets with MPs and assemblymen in a show of support for the second time last week.

KOTA KINABALU: A political analyst predicts that the recent exit of two assemblymen aligned with the Warisan-led state government will trigger an “open season” for political parties in Sabah as rumours swirl of an impending collapse of the administration due to crossovers to Perikatan Nasional (PN).

Upko’s Sugut assemblyman James Ratib and Kuala Penyu rep Limus Jury were the first to withdraw from the coalition, becoming independents supportive of PN.

While bigger parties like Umno, PPBM and Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) may appear more attractive to those considering a switch in camps, FMT has reliably learnt that even smaller outfits are trying their luck in snapping up elected representatives, especially those currently without a party.

Universiti Malaysia Sarawak deputy dean Arnold Puyok said Sabah was known for changing its government.

“The reps have a penchant for switching loyalties,” he added. “It looks like you only need to get two or three people to initiate the crossovers and the rest will follow.”

“It’s easier to be in the government than in the opposition,” he told FMT.

“The culture of opposition politics is not in the vocabulary of most of our politicians.”

The Warisan-led coalition, which includes Upko, DAP and PKR, holds 45 seats in the 65-seat state assembly. Sabah PPBM has nine, Umno one and PBS four.

Parti Solidariti Tanah Airku (STAR) has three assemblymen while Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah (PBRS) has no state rep but one MP. Sabah MCA and the Sabah Progressive Party likewise hold no seats.

Puyok said Warisan’s political opponents would likely attempt to get former Umno or Barisan Nasional (BN) leaders in the party to switch sides.

“I think the elected representatives will be more attracted to a bigger party, and a party closest to the centre of power like PPBM or Umno.”

He added that PBS, STAR and PBRS were minor parties, lacking a strong base and leaders with political clout.

Lee Kuok Tiung of Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) said Umno and PBS were more likely options for those looking to switch camps.

“Umno is with BN, and Muafakat Nasional looks more stable and stronger than PPBM which is currently facing internal problems,” he said, referring to the agreement inked between Umno and PAS last year.

PBS, meanwhile, is more established than STAR or PBRS in the state, and has “hardcore grassroots supporters”, he said.

However, he said not everyone switches sides “because they want to get something out of it”.

“Some of them are frustrated with their previous or current parties and just want to leave for a better future, especially since they have an obligation to their constituents.”

His colleague at UMS, Romzi Ationg, agreed that “fishing” for assemblymen was a normal practice although he did not condone it.

He said the race to snap up elected representatives would heat up as the party with the most assemblymen would likely command more power in state politics.

“It’s a matter of gaining political power in the state,” he said, adding that such politics would be associated with greed and self-interest rather than that of the people.

He also called for the introduction of an anti-hopping law to prevent elected representatives from switching sides.

Puyok meanwhile said it was pointless to complain about crossovers as long as the root of the issue is not addressed.

“Sabah politics is very personality-based and shaped by patronism,” he said.

“Unless we bring about structural change in our governance or political system and promote a more progressive political culture, this culture of party switching will continue.”

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