KUALA LUMPUR, April 27 — DAP will likely retain Sandakan in the upcoming by-election, albeit with a smaller majority, analysts believe.
Oh Ei Sun, senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, said voters in the Sabah parliamentary constituency may be tougher on DAP now that the party is part of the coalition government.
“But on the other hand, PBS is still widely perceived to be aligned with the racially supremacist Umno, and thus is too difficult for the majority Chinese voters of Sandakan to stomach,” Oh told Malay Mail.
PBS, which won one parliament and six state seats in the 2018 general election, has nominated Datuk Linda Tsen, a former two term MP of neighbouring Batu Sapi constituency, for the by-election.
Oh said the Sandakan race was significant in Sabah as a DAP victory would indicate that the Warisan-led Sabah state government could deliver a win for their federal partners without the latter having to intrude excessively into Sabah politics.
“This race is significant nationally only because it will be a first by-election win for PH (Pakatan Harapan) after having suffered three consecutive electoral defeats in the Peninsula.”
DAP has decided to field the late Sandakan MP Stephen Wong’s daughter, Vivian. The late Sabah health and public well-being minister, who died last month from a heart attack, had won Sandakan in 2018 with a majority of over 10,000 votes.
James Chin, director of the Asia Institute at the University of Tasmania, said DAP would campaign on regaining its seat in the Sabah state Cabinet and on a sympathy vote, while PBS or the Opposition would say that things have gotten worse under Chief Minister Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal.
“DAP will have little problem in retaining the seat,” he told Malay Mail.
“I have many friends in Sandakan and they tell me it’s a non-event. They tell me all the kopitiam talk is that it’s Rocket for sure,” he added, referring to DAP’s symbol.
Tony Paridi Bagang, lecturer at the Faculty of Administrative Science and Policy Studies at UiTM Sabah, said the Sandakan race would test PBS’ popularity as a local multiracial party since it would run under its own flag, after leaving BN.
“Both local and national issues would be played up during the campaign, such as the illegal immigrants, cost of living, land issue and structural reforms that have been promised during the GE14,” he said.
Rahezzal Shah Abd Karim, senior lecturer in politics and public policy at the Faculty of Administrative Science and Policy Studies, UiTM Sabah, urged political parties not to treat each by-election as a mini-referendum on the national pulse.
“But in reality, that’s not necessarily the case,” he pointed out.
“BN, ie MCA Sabah and Umno Sabah pulling out from the by-election tells us that they know it would be extremely difficult to wrest back the seat from DAP. BN three in a row victory gave much needed boast to the morale of BN. They wouldn’t want to spoil that winning streak.”
BN won the previous Semenyih, Cameron Highlands and Rantau by-elections. Cameron Highlands and Rantau were BN strongholds.
Independent analyst Khoo Kay Peng cautioned PH that PBS could use Bersatu’s entry into Sabah against them, among other issues.
“The main issue would be PH’s stance on granting the full rights to Sabah under MA63 (Malaysia Agreement 1963). It will focus on the arguments of how Warisan has not been able to persuade its coalition partners to restore Sabah rights under MA63,” Khoo told Malay Mail.
Nomination for Sandakan will take place this morning, while polling is scheduled for May 11.