Report: Sabah win could force Muhyiddin’s hand on snap election

Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin attends a Perikatan Nasional event at Universiti Malaya, Kuala Lumpur September 1, 2020. ― Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin attends a Perikatan Nasional event at Universiti Malaya, Kuala Lumpur September 1, 2020. ― Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

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KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 2 — The Sabah state election might be a pyrrhic victory for Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin as it has resulted in an increasingly antagonised Umno, according to political watchers.

They said that while the convincing win was a fillip for Muhyiddin personally, it has taken a toll on the already testy-relations between his Bersatu party and nominal ally Umno.

Umno was forced to concede its claim on the post of the Sabah chief minister, yielding the position to Sabah Bersatu chief Datuk Hajiji Noor despite — as the party pointed out — having won the most state seats among the individual parties that contested.

Yesterday, Umno deputy president Datuk Mohamad Hasan openly questioned the value of his party’s cooperation with Bersatu and Perikatan Nasional, noting that it has now cost the party control of Sabah that it had once held for nearly three decades.

The agitation among sections of Umno also came amid the backdrop of Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s claim of having secured a “formidable” majority with which to take over the government, including from Umno lawmakers.

“Muhyiddin emerges from the Sabah elections stronger, but until Anwar’s claim to have a majority has been disproven, there remains considerable political uncertainty.

“Subject to Covid-19 developments, the prime minister will be increasingly tempted to call early elections to capitalise on the momentum,” Eurasia Group’s Asia director, Peter Mumford, told the Straits Times.

Ahead of the state election, Muhyiddin suggested that a victory in Sabah could prompt him to hold a general election shortly after.

However, this paled in comparison to the repeated and vociferous calls from Umno for an early general election despite the party’s place in the federal government.

Yesterday, Mohamad also removed his party’s mask of conviviality towards Bersatu and PN when he openly called these “political rivals”.

It is unclear how advanced seat negotiations among Umno, PAS, and Bersatu were at the moment, but these would be unavoidably difficult as all three parties appeal primarily to the Malay electorate in the peninsula.

Umno leaders such as Johor deputy chief Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed previously said the party would not concede any traditional seats to Bersatu, suggesting that the clashes between allies that took place in Sabah would be repeated with a greater intensity in an early general election.

One Umno source who spoke to ST suggested that there was also appetite in the party for obstacles to be put in the path of PN administrations, both state and federal.

Previously, Umno president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said the support of his party and Barisan Nasional lawmakers for the PN government was solely based on confidence and supply, but the Umno source told ST even this could not be taken for granted.

“It would be a popular decision with the grassroots to play hardball.

“We can even block the Budget,” the person said.

By convention, failure to pass the federal Budget is considered a successful vote of no-confidence against the government.

An early general election amid a climate of rising Covid-19 cases could be deeply unpopular, as there has been growing anger among Malaysians who blamed politicians for triggering an unnecessary Sabah election even as cases spread across the state.

The cases have now spread to other parts of the country and forced Malaysia to contemplate the possible reintroduction of the strict measures that were needed to contain the previous wave.

It would also come at a high financial cost to the country, with the Election Commission estimating that it could take RM1.2 billion to hold a general election alongside Covid-19 or double what it cost for the 14th edition in 2018.

Yesterday, Malaysia reported 260 new Covid-19 cases or the second-highest single day figure since the pandemic arrived in Malaysia and significantly more than what fresh cases had been when Muhyiddin imposed the movement control order (MCO) in March.

On March 18 when the MCO came into effect, 117 Covid-19 cases were reported.

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