Even before the May polls campaign process has reached full momentum in the state of Sabah, three generalisations dominate the marketplace of political ideas about its consequences:

a) that a third-time victory for chief minister Musa Aman in Sabah is nearly certain;
b) since this victory is a foregone conclusion, the time is ripe for a bigger role for Musa Aman

and

c) this victory is likely to be a direct outcome of ‘good governance’, understood primarily as robust economic growth, delivered under Musa’s leadership.

I see this approach as problematic for two reasons: in terms of method, it seems that QED has been etched in even before one could see the proof of what one set out to examine. More importantly, however, there is a certain naivete in this formulation that leads us to a complacence in examining the very complicated and nuanced role of electoral competition currently being witnessed in this state. I engage myself with unravelling this second strand, as viewed in the terrain of practical politics, analysing the strategies and counter-strategies of the main contenders—the ruling BN/UMNO the Pakatan Rakyat the Star Sabah and Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP). I then examine the robustness of each of these three ‘generalisations’, and in conclusion argue that although it is an advantage to Musa Aman, there is political competition to be witnessed before one could declare the match won.

For one, the Pakatan Rakyat Sabah in the field does not have a sense of local issues, an understanding of pockets of disadvantage, and also a macro-strategy of where to deploy its energies spatially. In not associating themselves with Sabahan struggles against Malayan colonisation, the party has been aligning itself on the wrong side of popular grievances. Anwar Ibrahim’s campaigns will be of disadvantage, given his historical roots in the toppling of the duly elected PBS government in 1994 and his hands together with Dr Mahathir’s in the Project IC to dilute the native population in the state. Also Pakatan’s lineup, who is going to be chief minister if they win? Lajim as chief minister? Bumburing? Tamrin? Ansari? Who? They have no one of Musa Aman’s standing and Musa’s record of governance the last ten years can speak for itself.

For the SAPP the party’s grassroots base was not evident even in the Batu Sapi parliamentary by-elections held on 2010. Besides, the SAPP had a low vote-share of 10 per cent or less even in the March 2008 elections. This will not be translated evenly into enough seats for the party this coming GE 13th May 5. Also, the margins of losing are very low. The party’s President, Yong Teck Lee failure to win over Pakatan’s Ansari in the Batu Sapi parliamentary by elections means even the Chinese in Sandakan have rejected the SAPP. SAPP’s most impressive pre-poll offering has been its “Autonomi for Sabah” battle cry, promising new Sabah IC for Sabahans if it comes to power, is questionable because they have been in the BN government for 14 years and Yong Teck Lee had been chief minister of Sabah for 2 years yet did not do zilch.

Part of the Star Sabah strategy is to focus on the interiors of Sabah, Jeffrey Kitingan’s roost, where it is said that the natives are disgruntled. As a macro-strategy, the Star Sabah is concentrating on the interiors of Sabah, where natives who are farmers have been adversely hit by high prices of fertilizers and agrochemicals and cost of essentials rocketing sky high The region accounts for nearly a third of the total seats and is the stronghold of PBS supremo Datuk Joseph Pairin Kitingan the “Huguan Siou”or paramount chief of the Kadazandusun Murut community, the backbone of UMNO Sabah. There is a story about Pairin saying his bids this time is his last battle to retain both constituencies of Keningau and Tambunan for the Barisan Nasional in the interest of the people, meaning Jeffrey will have a tough time to win in Keningau. Besides, there is no tacit approval by Pairin to the natives that Jeffrey will takeover from Pairin, as claimed. As an unfolding of this macro-strategy, Jeffrey might launch the Star Sabah’s manifesto for the May polls’s in Keningau, in the heart of Indigenous Sabah.

Also, the Najib government’s decision to get The Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) on Illegal Immigrants in Sabah is of recent vintage, and can win favours for the BN. Natives disgruntlement owing to disadvantages due to the presence of huge numbers of illegals becoming instant Malaysians and Bumiputras. Najib and the Federal Government seriously addressing it by having the RCI on illegals, along with the Lahad Datu drama, makes for a strong force. After all, the defeat of Haris Salleh in 1985‘ was scripted similarly, combining agricultural disgruntlement and fear of illegals reverse taking over of Sabah and sentiments of regional disadvantage.

To the advantage of the Barisan National is the fact that there is no state-wide anti-incumbency even after a decade-long rule by Musa Aman. Economic indicators are certainly robust, with state GDP growth rates averaging 6 to 7 per cent or more (between 2003-12). Interestingly, Musa Aman has raised it to a campaign pitch, telling everyone to “learn” from the Sabah growth story. The sectoral composition of this growth rate, particularly the advances in construction, agriculture and tourism, have received wide attention. Although there have been disputes whether the growth has been as high as Musa Aman claims, even modest estimates available accept agriculture grew at higher than national average at around ten per cent or more. Economists also note the significance of the consistently high growth rate in the agriculture, construction and the tourism sector, notwithstanding the constraints it faces.

But electoral competition, and even more electoral victories, are not simple outcomes of people calculating the benefits of policies and voting for political leaders who set the regional economy right. Were this hypothesis correct, why would Premier Najib Tun Razak have announced a series of cash incentives a year before the May poll dates set in? These include promises of farm loan and free internet usage, electricity bill waivers, enhanced allowances to security personals and civil servants, allowances for youth earning less than RM2000 and payment of arrears to teachers among others and the BR1M and many more goodies. Even the kampong headman has been promised a increase in allowances. The cash transfers build a new constituency of supporters, while countering some of the opposition from the lower bureaucracy and the poor. Advantage to Musa Aman again.

Of greater bearing for electoral fortunes is Musa Aman’s use of political vocabulary and tailoring the campaign language to hype his achievements and castigate the opposition. In state wide ceramahs, the opposition are his target, as if the party’s state unit led by Lajim Hj Okim, Wilfred Bumburing, Dr Jeffrey Kitingan and Anwar Ibrahim has no bearing. To malign the image further, Musa Aman adds that the “Pakatan Rakyat and the local opposition is not united and cannot really be trusted.”

Coming back to the three generalisations I began with, it is the first of which the chances seem highly likely. But Musa Aman’s victory is unlikely to be attained without competition from the local unit of the opposition front. The opposition front has also made pro-poor election promises of housing and employment for the poor, reduction of petrol prices, abolition of PTPTN and Sabah rights. How well they are able to sustain these as campaign issues, and combine their attack along with the challenges from UMNO dissidents, may have very little implications for this election.

The second generalisation about “a bigger role for Musa Aman” for the moment seems to be a ploy to hype the leader into a “larger than real” stature, and is certainly a political statement intended for local Sabah consumption. Finally, robust growth notwithstanding, Musa is not relying on these laurels alone. So also the opposition, which has understood that growth pursued in a certain way produces grievances amongst the displaced and the rural poor, and these can be woven into a counter-campaign strategy. In conclusion, it is advantage Musa Aman, but the battle is yet to be fought.

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Comments
  1. Pemerhati says:

    Pakatan component parties too are not very compromising when it comes to seat swaps or even giving up a certain seat for the sake of the opposition pact.

    Another factor which has led to confusion in the opposition camp is meeting demands of warlords.

    They, in some cases, demand that a certain candidate be placed in a particular seat. Opposition party leaders are unable to clampdown these warlords as any action against them, now, would lead to sabotage on the ground and result in loss of the seat.

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  2. Sabah Warrior says:

    He concurred with the statements by former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and former Finance Minister Tun Daim Zainuddin that Najib had done a lot for the BN and the country as the prime minister in terms of political and economic transformation since he took over the helm. “Of course, with proper selection of the so-called ‘winnable candidates’, the Barisan Nasional will be able subdue the opposition in these areas.”

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  3. Sabah Warrior says:

    Salman said the feel good factor towards the good administration of the Sabah government under Musa, especially in bringing about development in all aspects for the people and the acceptance of the new transformation policy
    implemented by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, the brainchild of the 1Malaysia concept, would also contribute to the BN’s victory in the polls.

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  4. Sabah Warrior says:

    “Advantage is definitely on the BN side because, in the political arena, whenever there is a split or disunity among the opposition, the ruling party will always get the benefit,” he said.

    Citing the results of the 2008 general election for the state seats of Likas, Kepayan and Inanam in Sabah, Salman said the split opposition votes gave victory to the BN.

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  5. Sabah Warrior says:

    Adding salt to the wound, State Reform Party (Star) Sabah Chapter chairman Datuk Dr Jeffrey Kitingan confirmed joining the fray, and expects his party to be involved in contests of three-corner or more in most of the parliamentary and state seats.

    Short of saying that it might further split the opposition votes and give the advantage to the ruling party, Jeffrey said “every political party is free to field a candidate in elections as it is in line with the principle of democracy as practised in Malaysia”.

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  6. Sabah Warrior says:

    In what is seen as a blow for the opposition, SAPP secretary-general Datuk Richard Yong had subsequently described Anwar’s announcement as implying that “PR is over-confident”.

    “They hold themselves so high that there is no need for cooperation from Sabah parties to campaign against the Barisan Nasional. They have ignored the people’s aspiration for the opposition to go one-to-one against the BN in the coming election,” Yong was quoted as saying.

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  7. Sabah Warrior says:

    The seeds of disunity began to appear within the opposition when Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) de facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim announced here recently that Pakatan Rakyat would face the BN on its own without the support of the state-based parties in the coming general election in Sabah.

    This did not go down well with the leaders of the Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP), a local party that left the BN on Sept 17, 2008, which had been hoping for a strategic alliance to face the mighty BN election machinery.

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  8. Sabah Warrior says:

    With negotiations for a possible one-to-one contest or showdown between the BN and a united opposition front in Sabah making no headway, the BN is now in a better position to deliver another double political knockout to its opponents in both the parliamentary and state elections.

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  9. Sabah Warrior says:

    The charismatic Musa led the state BN to a thumping victory in the last general election, capturing 24 of the 25 parliamentary seats and 59 of the 60 state seats, leaving the DAP with the Kota Kinabalu parliamentary and Sri Tanjung (Tawau) state seats.

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  10. Sabah Warrior says:

    Firing the first salvo after the dissolution of the Dewan Rakyat and the Sabah Legislative Assembly yesterday, Musa, who is also the state BN chairman, called on the people of Sabah not to gamble away their future by experimenting with an opposition government.

    “Think wisely before making a decision, and don’t gamble away the future of our children and the country,” Musa was quoted as saying.

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  11. Sabah Warrior says:

    A confident Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman, hailed for the state’s sound financial management and state Barisan Nasional (BN) supremacy in the 2008 general election, is once again expected to spearhead the coalition in the coming polls against a disunited opposition in the state.

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  12. Joe Fernandez says:

    Pairin wanted to give way to Jeffrey in Keningau but the BN insisted otherwise.

    In 2008, it was supposed to be Pairin’s last time too. How many last time’s is BN going to force Pairin to pull on the Orang Asal?

    The Orang Asal parties in BN — PBS, Upko, PBRS — are in deep sh.t over the illegals on the electoral rolls as revealed by the RCI. So, they came up in a panic with the gimmicky Gelombang Tataba.

    Tataba is the magical wand of power which PBS wielded from 1985 to 1994.

    PKR and Pas are washouts in Sabah.

    Sapp is a nuisance. They are lucky if they can keep Likas, Luyang and Tawau.

    Dap may win Kota Kinabalu and Sandakan besides retaining Sri Tanjung.

    It’s expected that the BN will not do as well in Sabah and Sarawak this time as in 2008.

    Seven parliamentary seats are expected to fall to the Opposition in Sabah. This translates into 20 or 21 state seats.

    In Sarawak, a one-to-one will see the Opposition taking at least eight parliamentary seats and perhaps as many as 15 to 16 seats. There are no state elections this time in Sarawak. The last was in 2011. If the Opposition does well in Sarawak, they will demand new state elections.

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