Sabah win strengthens Muhyiddin’s position ahead of GE15, but national outcome may vastly differ, say analysts

Election poster featuring Perikatan Nasional chairman Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin are seen in Keningau, Sabah September 24, 2020. — Picture by Firdaus Latif
Election poster featuring Perikatan Nasional chairman Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin are seen in Keningau, Sabah September 24, 2020. — Picture by Firdaus Latif

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 27 — Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s position going into the 15th general election looks more solid after yesterday’s electoral victory in Sabah by the Gabungan Rakyat Sabah (GRS) alliance that includes his party, several political experts said.

They noted the Bersatu president had signalled during campaigning that he may call for early national polls if GRS won the state election, as it has done. 

While the analysts agreed that the GRS win puts Muhyiddin in a better position to call for GE15, they did not share the PM’s sentiment that the motley assemblage he currently commands will elicit a similar outcome at the national level.

“Based on the spirit of federalism, any alliance that forms the state government will work hand-in-hand with the federal government. If GRS wins, Muhyiddin will be in a better position to announce for the GE15,” political analyst Kartini Aboo Talib Khalid told Malay Mail when contacted after the Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition that Muhyiddin leads claimed early victory after taking 37 seats for a simple majority in the 73-seat contest.

The Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) associate professor stopped short of predicting a similar outcome in the national election, noting the social-economic disparity among the states divided by the South China Sea.

“The election in Sabah exhibits the spirit of Sabah for Sabahans, with a dominantly agrarian society who is really concerned about the basket economy. 

“It will be too easy to connect the result in Sabah as a reflection of what will happen in the peninsula,” she said.

“I might reserve my option on this because peninsular Malaysia is more diverse than Sabah including the social class and orientation. However, the victory of GRS strengthens Muafakat Nasional’s position in GE15,” she added.

The different political partnerships that have formed in Sabah ahead of the state election and those at the federal level reflect the diversity Kartini spoke of. 

The GRS alliance that officially won Sabah, as declared by the Election Commission later, comprises the PN coalition of which Muhyiddin is chairman; as well as the Barisan Nasional coalition, chaired by Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi; and the state-based Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS).

The Muafakat Nasional pact is a separate political partnership comprising the big name Malay parties Umno, PAS, and Muhyiddin’s Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM).

Another UKM senior lecturer Suffian Mansor said GRS’ win could at least give Muhyiddin as PN chairman the edge in naming the next Sabah chief minister, should there be conflicting opinions among the different parties.

Muhyiddin has previously hinted at the possibility of Sabah PPBM chief Datuk Seri Hajiji Mohd Noor heading the Sabah government if GRS wins. 

Professor Sivamurugan Pandian told Malay Mail he too would not agree for now that the win in Sabah automatically would secure a mandate for Muhyiddin in a national election.

However, the Universiti Sains Malaysia lecturer added that it does put the PM on stronger footing to call for national polls even as his support in Parliament has been challenged by Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

The PKR president sprung a surprise last week just days before the Sabah polls and claimed Muhyiddin has lost the parliamentary majority, which places a question mark over the latter’s position as PM.

“It shows the prime minister can consolidate his position as he’s the key factor for GRS. He can call for elections as he himself has said that before,” Sivamurugan told Malay Mail.

“Although many blocs existed, the voters could have focused on his role as prime minister who addressed their issues during Covid-19 and personalities were given preference.

“But pull factors in Sabah cannot be generalised nationwide. Different demography and geography,” he added.

Universiti Teknologi Malaysia geostrategist Professor Azmi Hassan said the Sabah election showed Muhyiddin’s risky gamble to campaign so strongly during the Covid-19 pandemic has paid off.

Like Kartini, Azmi noted Muhyiddin’s hints of snap national election if GRS won. However, he thinks the PM may delay that call considering his PN federal government is still functioning.

“That's what the PM said, isn't it? He said regardless of what happens, it will reflect who wins in GE15. 

“If we look at these elections in Sabah, this is the first time there was a coalition of PN parties on the state level that was tested in Sabah. Seems like with this result Sabahans are accepting this coalition,”Azmi said on Bernama TV aired last night after GRS claimed victory.

“On the whole, it seems if Umno works together with others, this is the positive result that they get. So maybe this will go on to GE15. 

“However, personally if you ask me if we need to have an election now, I say no need. Even if PN has a slim four-five majority, they can still operate as a government. I know Umno people will be angry with me, but with the pandemic, we should wait,” Azmi said.

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