KOTA KINABALU, March 24 — Umno’s six-year suspension of Putatan MP Datuk Shahelmey Yahya was meant to show parties in Sabah that it could still alter the state’s fragile balance of power, according to political analysts.
Although calling the suspension unsurprising, they said it was still a clear message to Gabungan Rakyat Sabah chairman Datuk Seri Hajiji Noor, who is also the state’s chief minister.
“Umno will never give up. Certainly, it is a threat to Hajiji. They are a big and powerful party and are not willing to be followers. They are confident that they’ll come back strong and political developments in the Peninsula are their main motivator,” said Universiti Teknologi Mara’s Tony Paridi Bagang.
Shahelmey’s six-year suspension was for defying the party’s stand to pull support for Hajiji last January, during an abortive power struggle for the control of the state.
Shahelmey and four other Umno assemblymen went against the party at the time and chose to stay with Hajiji’s GRS government. The four others have since left Umno to join Parti Gagasan Rakyat Sabah.
Bagang said Umno was using the suspension as a power play to keep pressure on Hajiji and force him to compromise in order to maintain relations with the party.
“Umno is a well institutionalised party with strong resources. They have to be seen as walking their talk.
“At the same time, it’s a strategic move not to expel him as it could be just a ‘cooling off’ for both parties and there’s room for reconciliation,” he said, adding that no party would want to lose a seat.
Shahelmey, who is also Tanjung Keramat state assemblyman, is Sabah’s deputy chief minister III as well as holding the portfolio as works minister.
“Umno doesn’t want to lose the seat, but if Shahelmey was willing to jump, Hajiji would be able to further strengthen his party,” said University Malaysia Sabah’s Lee Kuok Tiung.
“They’re nervous at the prospect of losing the seat because they will have to go against Pakatan Harapan, GRS and Warisan for the seat,” he said.
He also said most parties were not keen on a by-election as they must focus on other priorities such as the six state elections due soon in six peninsular states.
However, Lee said that the ripple effects of the suspension was evident during the party’s election last weekend.
“Previously when Umno and BN were so strong, the faction that lost will keep silent and try to reconcile and be friends.
“Now, as Umo is just a portion of the unity government, and coincidentally there’s so many other options and alternatives waiting and welcoming them, they might just leave the party,” he said.
Lee also said that Bung, despite remaining the Sabah Umno chairman, was still in a precarious position as no representative from his faction was in the state government since the failed takeover attempt.
“Out of the five Umno MPs who had supported Hajiji, Shahelmey is the only one left. If Umno continues to discriminate against Shahelmey, the biggest losers are Umno Sabah themselves.
“But the six-year suspension message is clear: Umno is closing the door for him to contest in the next party election and GE16,” he said.
While Hajiji’s GRS had been transitioning away from Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia in January, Bung’s faction in Sabah Umno tried to wrest control of the state government for themselves but failed when other parties in the coalition government opted for the status quo.
Bung then lost his position as a deputy chief minister when Hajiji reshuffled his state Cabinet in the aftermath.