Chronology of Sabah elections

Leaders set high standards. Refuse to tolerate mediocrity or poor performance.

— Brian Tracy, motivational public speaker

Congratulations to Sabah’s Gabungan Rakyat Sabah (GRS) for masterminding the downfall of the Warisan in another episode of Sabah’s long political journey.
Veteran Datuk Dr Jeffrey Kitingan, whom I know well, said former Sabah chief minister and Warisan leader Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal had only himself to blame for his party’s downfall.

Shafie, 64, was a former Umno vice president and could have used the billions of dollars at his disposal when he was federal Minister of Rural and Regional Development and Sabah chief minister but apparently, he didn’t do much for his state.

In 2016, Shafie left the federal BN coalition to form Warisan and two years later, became the Sabah CM.

But before he had settled down, a coup was brewing. Among those involved was his nemesis, former Sabah Umno CM, Tan Sri Musa Aman whom Shafie had deposed in 2018.  

A political maverick himself, Musa, 69, was the Sabah finance minister and chairman of Sabah Umno before he became CM in 2003. He was doing fairly well as CM until a timber corruption scandal in 2012 tainted him.

Musa was also accused of “cronyism” involving 700,000 acres of state forest reserve land under the Sabah Foundation during his term as CM.

In the 2018 election, Sabah BN secured 29 state legislative seats out of the total of 60 but got a simple majority of 31 when two members from STAR joined the coalition. Musa was reinstalled as CM the following day.

However, Warisan with also 29 seats, pinched six renegade BN assemblymen and announced it now had 35 assemblymen and should instead form the government. Two years later, on May 12, Governor Tun Jahar Mahiruddin installed Shafie as Sabah’s 15th CM making it the fifth time since 1963, that the government had changed hands.

Sabah faced another political crisis on July 29 when 33 assemblymen passed a no confidence motion against the Warisan CM.

But before they could meet the Governor to declare they had the numbers to form the Sabah government, Shafie and his coalition of 34 met Tun Juhar, claiming they had a simple majority.

Since there was an impasse, Shafie called for the dissolution of the state legislative assembly, leading to the September 26 state election.

But Shafie underestimated Sabah BN under Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin who personally led the fight against Warisan.

Muhyiddin had a score to settle because when he needed Warisan most in his bid to become prime minister in March 2018, the party spurned him.

But Warisan’s loss was Sarawak’s gain because all 17 of Sarawak’s Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) government saved the day when they went over to support Muhyiddin’s Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition.

Throwing caution to the wind, GPS agreed to add to PN’s numbers by becoming an affiliate of PN which comprised former BN coalition and the opposition PAS.

Now at the helm of the government, Muhyiddin promised to provide Sabah with incentives for more development projects.

This was his trump card because in the past, Sabah was treated as a stepchild.
But under Muhyiddin, the “poor” Sabahans felt they had to take a chance with the new coalition, especially, with the “special treatment” given to Sarawak.

Another factor in GRS’s favor was because the election was held in the midst of the Covid-19 dilemma.

And Muhyiddin had taken the bull by the horns when the PN coalition did extremely well by curbing the coronavirus pandemic.

Even though Sarawak’s GPS coalition was not involved in the Sabah affair, Chief Minister Datuk Patingi Abang Johari Tun Openg kept a close watch on the proceedings.

When GPS agreed to help PN, it appeared as though they were a group of strange bedfellows.

However, Abang Johari said they supported the coalition for nobler reasons.
Initially, there was some doubt whether Sabah’s GRS coalition of Umno, PBS and STAR could pull off a win because of the anti-Malayan sentiments in the past.

But GRS with its arsenal of campaigners from the peninsula and unlimited funds, pulled it off.

Even though GRS won narrowly by 38 seats to Warisan’s 32, the die has been cast because it is highly likely the new Sabah coalition will face another political crisis so soon.

With the swearing in of Datuk Hajiji Noor, a moderate and accessible CM, things are peaceful and calm for the moment.

As Sarawak is also preparing to hold its election anytime soon, there may be lessons to be learnt.

Happily, Sarawak has a strong coalition with PBB as the backbone while the other members, SUPP, PRS and PDP having to work extra hard for the coalition with its impeccable record of 72 seats out of 82.

Even so, Abang Johari does not have much to worry because he has proven GPS is serious about developing the state.

Abang Johari, who took over from the late Pehin Sri Adenan Satem in 2017, is now a self-made man and is qualified to lead Sarawak into the modern era.

The views expressed here are those of the columnist and do not necessarily represent the views of New Sarawak Tribune. Feedback can reach him at

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