Sabah 16th State Election : Thoughts

On 31st July 2020, the Sabah state assembly has been dissolved. On 26th September 2020, Gabungan Rakyat Sabah (PN + BN + PBS) emerged as the winner with a slight majority of 38 seats. Warisan Plus (Warisan + DAP + PKR + Amanah + UPKO) however have lost but have obtained 32 seats. This indicated the fall of the Warisan Plus government.

What I am about to write here are my personal opinions which have been backed up by notable academics and political analysts who have commented on the recent state election. Just consider my opinion here as a supplementary piece to what they have commented on.

Anti-PTI (Pendatang Tanpa Izin) sentiments

This issue has been played by GRS to get the votes from Sabahans. Their rhetoric has worked simply because I think most Sabahans see the PTI issue as a security/state sovereignty issue rather than a human rights issue. Furthermore, the same issue has been played during the Kimanis by-election earlier this year when Warisan government had planned to introduce the policy as a way to manage the illegal immigrants. Many Sabahans have scorned at the idea and have voiced out their discontent regarding the Pas Sementara Sabah (PSS), mostly perceiving it as the first step to give citizenship to them. I personally think the misconception is based on the majority of Sabahan’s xenophobic tendencies. To be fair though, the Warisan government was vague about the policy. They should have been clear about it. So this vagueness regarding PSS contributed to their loss.  But the  again I think this wouldn’t work because most Sabahans prefer them to be deported instead of providing them a ‘pass’. The Warisan government has since then discarded the plan when they lost the Kimanis by-election. However, this had left a long-lasting impression on the electorate and they have remained skeptical of the Warisan government, an issue that GRS has easily used to convince voters to switch to the other side. Warisan had to continuously reassert that they are not a PTI friendly party. Their latest manifesto had even included ‘Memperhebatkan Lagi Usaha Pengusiran PTI di Negeri Ini’. But it seems like fear-mongering during GRS campaigns is more effective, rather than having people read the manifesto to make informed decisions regarding who to vote for.

What most people have forgotten is that party components in GRS have been the culprit for the influx of immigrants in the first place.

SOME political frogs have not been punished

Sabah is known for having political frogs since 1985. For this election, the primary reason for the snap state election was because of a new generation of frogs. When the state assembly was dissolved, there were talks about not voting for those who defected. Fast forward to the election, it seems like some of the voters still prefer some of those frogs. One winner in particular I know is still preferred in his DUN, no matter which party he resides. Maybe there are no alternative candidates that have been placed there that the voters are familiar with so the voters there just stick with the status quo.

Subtle racial sentiments

One particular political analyst has commented that this election has revealed the subtle racial sentiment that Sabah has, which can rarely be seen and often goes in hiding, perhaps to subconsciously protect Sabah’s image of being the model Malaysian state for racial and religious harmony. This issue is framed as the KDMRs (Kadazan Dusun Murut Rungus) VS the non-KDMRs. The non-KDMRs here do not mean the Chinese, I’m referring to another group of Bumiputera Sabahans that are not under the collective grouping of KDMR – the Suluks and Bajaus in particular. I would like to link this with the Tanduo incident back in 2013. Since the people involved were of the Suluk people from Southern Philippines, the KDMRs, with prejudice, tend to lump them together with the Sabahan Suluks. This prejudice perhaps rose from ignorance of the concept of migration, an activity that was normal prior to the formation of Malaysia, before the setting up of formal international boundaries between the Philippines and Malaysia. They may have come from the same ancestral lineage, but Suluks in Sabah have integrated and assimilated with other Sabahans and now have Sabahan identity, not Filipino identity.

Source: Kedaulatan Negara Harga Mati : Pencerobohan Sulu dan Dampaknya kepada Keselamatan Pantai Timur Sabah

 A blow to Warisan’s ‘UNITY’ message

Warisan’s rhetorical tactic which is the call to retain unity among Sabahans is a tactic that reflects what Sabah is known for which I think is to counter  PN and BN’s Ketuanan Melayu narrative. However, this might have not worked to counter anti-PTI sentiments that are louder on social media and in GRS campaigns because Sabah is already known for this so-called ‘unity’, so it’s a no-brainer (although racial sentiments are subtle). It is as if Sabah didn’t have unity in the first place. If only Warisan Plus had used anti-PTI sentiments for their campaign, to compensate their image as a PTI friendly coalition, maybe they would have won. Although GRS has party components that are in support of Ketuanan Melayu ideologically, in practice, they didn’t ride on the Ketuanan Melayu rhetoric in Sabah. They rode on the anti-PTI sentiment instead.

Linking party and race

Warisan has been labeled as a non-KDMR coalition, even when clearly there are KDMR members and candidates. While GRS has been labeled as a KDMR coalition, due to the prominence of PBS and STAR in that coalition in majority KDMR seats, despite having non-KDMR members in them. I personally think this approach of labeling parties is just for the convenience of political analysts and the public. When reality on the ground, a vote for a KDM candidate doesn’t necessarily mean disdain for non-KDM candidates and vice versa. Perhaps we should be aware of the nuances in linking demographics and voting patterns in certain areas.

Perikatan Nasional’s latest policies

Bantuan Prihatin Nasional, PENJANA, and JENDELA are perhaps the few policies that have helped increase Perikatan Nasional’s popularity as help is what most people have expected from the government. They mostly tackle the bread and butter issue, so, some Sabahans are more attracted to that and have affirmed this as a vote that GRS deserves.

MY HOPE

What I hope for GRS is for the smooth implementation of the 17/21 issues which have been resolved recently in December 2019. As of now, it is just a policy announcement. Policy implementation of the decentralisation process should be the next main focus.

For me personally, this has been a clean and fair election. From the beginning when the state assembly has been dissolved to prevent a backdoor state government, to the very end where there was no foul play during the election process – this is what I call a democracy taking place.

What’s next for us is to evaluate this state government and hold our leaders accountable until the next state election.

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