COMMENTARY, Sept 28 — The aligned Perikatan Nasional (read: Bersatu) and Barisan Nasional (read: Umno) are deadlocked over which should get to choose the next chief minister of Sabah after their Gabungan Rakyat Sabah coalition won the state election.
PN has insisted on its Sabah chief, Datuk Hajiji Noor, while BN has argued that it should be Datuk Seri Bung Moktar Radin who led the coalition there.
While the two met with Yang di-Pertua Negeri Tun Juhar Mahiruddin over their potential appointment yesterday, both went away disappointed as the Sabah governor declined to name either as the new CM and instead asked for more time to consider.
Their dispute is centred on the premise that the party with the most seats should decide the candidate to be CM, based on a reading of the state constitution that the person should be the “leader of such political party” that won the majority of seats and who commanded the confidence of the majority of state lawmakers.
Superficially, this would be Gabungan Rakyat Sabah that included PN, BN, and an assortment of aligned local parties who jointly won 38 seats from the 73 available, but the argument exists because the coalition was informal and could not consequently be the “political party” with the majority.
This pushes the contest lower down to the allied coalitions, where there is more clarity by virtue of PN’s 17 (11 of which were from Bersatu) and BN’s 14 seats (all of which were from Umno).
However, BN could have a significant advantage in fighting for the post, thanks to the president of the rival PKR party, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.
Anwar claimed sensationally days before the Sabah election to have secured a “formidable” majority with which to form a new government and declared Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s PN federal administration effectively collapsed.
While Anwar has not established the number of MPs supporting him — or disclosed any number, for that matter — he has at least forced Muhyiddin to come out and repeatedly assert his continued legitimacy as the prime minister.
Intriguingly, BN chairman and Umno president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has also issued a cryptic statement acknowledging support for Anwar from within his coalition and party.
Muhyiddin’s majority in Parliament has never been officially established but is thought to be a two-seat advantage as that was the margin with which PN managed to replace the Speaker and his two deputies previously.
A loss of support from just two Umno and BN lawmakers would send this below the 112-seat majority needed to remain the government of the day.
In such a climate, a tug-of-war with Umno over the position of Sabah’s chief minister could exacerbate the former’s discontent with PN and push the country closer to a possible change of government, an early general election, or the destabilising threat of either.
As such, with Anwar seemingly poised to capitalise on any rift between Umno and Bersatu, securing the Sabah CM’s post could be winning the battle to lose the war.