Sabah-based Warisan’s expansion to peninsula: A storm in teacup or bid to broaden appeal?

Warisan campaign workers put up flags in Kimanis January 8, 2020, ahead of the Kimanis by-election. — Bernama pic
Warisan campaign workers put up flags in Kimanis January 8, 2020, ahead of the Kimanis by-election. — Bernama pic

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KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 25 — Parti Warisan Sabah’s planned expansion from a state-based to a national-level party by opening up new chapters in Peninsular Malaysia could be a gamble to increase its appeal among new groups of voters that may not pay off, political analysts said.

Jayum Jawan, professor of politics and government at Universiti Putra Malaysia, believed that Warisan is unlikely to gain much from spreading its wings beyond Sabah where the party is based.

“Parti Warisan Sabah is a regional party. It is not going to attract national attention and support, especially outside Sabah,” he told Malay Mail when contacted.

He indicated that the political party may have to change its name to “Parti Warisan Malaysia” if it were to go national, noting however: “But I don’t think Malaysia, especially Semenanjung is ready for a Sabahan to lead them.”

He also pointed out that Sabahans living in Peninsular Malaysia were dispersed instead of highly concentrated in voting constituencies, which meant Warisan’s expansion to Peninsular Malaysia would ultimately be “creating a storm in a teacup, so to speak” and that “it will amount to nothing”.

“There are Sabahans in Semenanjung but their numbers are not significant and they are distributed and not forming significant numbers and percentages in a specific constituency,” he said.

Jayum also believed that opening up chapters in the peninsula would be unlikely to translate into more votes for Warisan in Sabah in future elections due to costly flight tickets, asking: “How? Voting means a person has to return to Sabah. Why would a person spend RM900 or so just to cast a vote?”

Jayum said Sabahans living and working in Peninsular Malaysia could be helped in other ways, noting: “Warisan doesn’t need to expand in order to serve Sabahans, they can bring up the matters in Parliament. They can do it by bringing up issues in Parliament and representing Sabahans when they deal with their Semenanjung partners in the federal government.”

Catching the progressive voters’ attention

Oh Ei Sun, senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, noted that Warisan would not be the first party to spread its wings to the peninsula, but suggested that its appeal in Peninsular Malaysia may only be limited to progressive voters.

“Shafie’s ‘unity’ message of nation-building irrespective of race and religion does resonate beyond Sabah and has an enormous appeal on the more progressive and liberal voters of Malaya, but would frankly fall on deaf ears among the more regressive and conservative Malayan voters.

“But if Shafie aspires to be PM, he does need to spread his political influence to Malaya which remains the political epicentre for the nation. But winning over some of the conservative voters would remain the main challenge not only for him but the other prominent progressive leaders as well,” he told Malay Mail.

Oh said Warisan’s expansion to the peninsula would mean that the party would inevitably run into competition with existing opposition parties in peninsula, as he noted most of the opposition parties — with perhaps the exception of Parti Pejuang Tanah Air — also “build and maintain their support bases upon the same cohort of progressive or liberal voters” as Warisan.

“But there are several bright spots to be noted here. For one, DAP and PKR have long spread their wings into Sabah and have worked in tandem with Warisan. So Warisan’s extension in the opposite direction should similarly be accommodated by them, with all three parties working to complement each other and filling the support gaps where they exist.

“Moreover, Warisan would bring a breath of fresh air into a somewhat stale and dated opposition pool in Malaya, hopefully resuscitating it to more political vigour,” he said.

As for whether Warisan could end up putting up election candidates in Peninsular Malaysia in the 15th general elections after its expansion, Oh said it would depend on their assessment on their level of support by then.

As a whole, Oh believed there would be “no harm” for Warisan to expand to the peninsula, and said it would encourage Sabahans in the peninsula to return home to vote in bigger drives.

Tapping into Sabahans’ support

Tony Paridi Bagang, Universiti Teknologi Mara Sabah senior lecturer in government and politics, said Warisan could reach out to Sabahan voters living in Peninsular Malaysia to get their support for the party in Sabah in future elections.

“Warisan could tap the support of Sabahans in the peninsula. I think it is a strategic move for Warisan to be more accessible by the people especially the Sabahans. Whether it is better for the party, it depends on their main intentions,” he told Malay Mail when contacted.

As for whether Warisan would face friction with its allies in the federal opposition by expanding beyond Sabah, he said it would again boil down to what is the party’s main agenda for doing so.

“Their intention to expand: Are they going to contest in the peninsula? Do they just want to be there to provide political platform for Sabahans? If they intend to be one of the players there, question is, in what capacity? As a single party? As a coalition?” he said of the party’s agenda, agreeing that the political platform is one of the possible agendas where the party may not necessarily field election candidates in the peninsula but be a place for Sabahans there to turn to for help.

Bagang said Warisan’s visibility among non-Sabahan voters in the peninsula would hinge on whether it would be able to work with national-level allies, stating that the party cannot go alone in the peninsula if it wants to get support or acceptance by non-Sabahans.

“I think it would be a big challenge for Warisan in the peninsula. It takes some time for Warisan to be known by Semenanjung people. Unless, Warisan aligns itself to national-based parties, then it could help to promote its party.

“To expand its wings to the peninsula, Warisan must be ready to align its political card at the national level. State-based politics has its own dynamics so be it at the national level. It’s too early to say/predict whether Warisan could win big in GE15/state election,” he said, adding that it could be possible for Warisan to field candidates in the peninsula as anything could happen depending on the scenario at that time.

On December 12, Warisan in its annual general meeting on that day approved a motion for the party to spread its wings to Peninsular Malaysia, with party president Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal reportedly saying that the party would go to areas with high numbers of Sabahans such as Johor and Selangor where it planned to set up new divisions and branches.

Shafie said Warisan would not have to change its name to expand to Peninsular Malaysia and that such a move did not breach the party’s constitution, while also highlighting that the expansion would not be unusual as other Sabah-based parties had also expanded to Peninsular Malaysia while parties that originated from Peninsular Malaysia had also set foot in Sabah.

Warisan secretary-general Datuk Loretto Padua Jr said the party could offer an alternative to Malaysians in Peninsular Malaysia via its concepts of unity and nation-building.

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