GEORGE TOWN, Sept 29 — The failure of Warisan and the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition to defend Sabah in last Saturday’s state election does not necessarily spell a loss of support from Borneo Malaysia in the next general election, according to political analysts.
The two political allies lost Sabah in its 16th state election after securing just 32 seats from the 73 available, allowing the Gabungan Rakyat Sabah (GRS) coalition that includes Perikatan Nasional (PN), Barisan Nasional (BN), PBS, and Star to take over control of the state.
Universiti Utara Malaysia Associate Professor Mohd Azizuddin Mohd Sani said former chief minister Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal’s Warisan performed well in the election. Instead, the academic attributed the loss on the underperformance of Upko and PKR.
“Politics in Sabah is unique, the issues they talk about are about their Sabah identity and state elections are different compared to general elections,” Azizuddin told Malay Mail when asked if the result indicated PH and Warisan’s inability to make inroads among rural voters.
PH typically performed best in urban and semi-urban seats, which was evident in DAP’s successful defence of all its six seats in the election.
He also said that state elections held separately from a general election were a unique proposition, as these allowed political parties to devote all their resources into a single state.
“It will be different during general elections as there will be less focus on Sabah, resources will be spread out throughout the country so Warisan and PH can use this opportunity to target marginal seats to win,” he said.
However, he said PH and Warisan will need to maintain their efforts to convince Sabah voters from now until the time a general election is called.
Conversely, Mohd Azizuddin said GRS parties would also need to serve the state well in order to avoid giving PH and Warisan an opening.
Analyst James Chin explained that politics in Sabah and Sarawak differed from peninsular Malaysia, which meant the Sabah election could not be considered an accurate yardstick for a general election.
He said Warisan and PH have made inroads in Sabah and secured most of the urban seats but failed to garner support from the Kadazandusun Murut community.
Still, Chin said both PH and Warisan must do plenty to convince Sabahans to support them in the next election.
In Sarawak, he said it would be more difficult to leech support away from the ruling Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) with its resources.
“The GPS is quite clever, they have reserved the RM2 billion Petronas money and they are spending it in areas where the contest will be close so, unless PH can match that with a better narrative than GPS of Sarawakian is first, it will be a difficult battle,” Chin said.
Earlier this month, Petronas paid Sarawak RM2.93 billion in arrears after the state oil firm dropped its lawsuit challenging Sarawak’s sales tax on petroleum products.
Chin also said the current political climate has given Sarawakian politicians the luxury of adopting a “wait-and-see” approach in the contest for federal power.
Aziznudin also asserted that Sarawak voters would consider voting for PH in a general election, saying that backing the coalition federally while retaining GPS in the state gave them the best of both worlds.
“This is their way of ensuring they get a voice at both state and Parliament,” he said.
In the 16th Sabah state election, Warisan Plus that included DAP won 29 seats while PKR won two and Upko, just one.
PH won the 2018 general election but its administration collapsed in February due to Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s unforced resignation as the prime minister and the departure of Bersatu and a rival PKR faction from the coalition.