Close to 1.1 million voters in Sabah are eligible to cast their ballots today for 17 parties and more than 400 candidates, less than 30 months after a nationwide political tsunami in 2018 brought to power Warisan, a turn of events which analysts and observers say will unlikely happen this time round.
They point to the failure of the Warisan-led government under Chief Minister Shafie Apdal to bring change to the state, especially in the rural areas which make up large parts of Sabah.
“Although Warisan supporters are still strongly behind the party, they are seen to be getting support only in the urban areas,” Thomas Fann, who heads electoral reforms movement Bersih 2.0, told MalaysiaNow.
Fann said voters in the rural areas were resigned to the fact that their lives had not improved under Warisan.
Political analyst Zaini Othman, of Universiti Malaysia Sabah, agreed with Fann but said there was no telling who would win the polls although he believed there would be no repeat of the 2018 political tsunami.
He said both Warisan Plus, which also brings together Sabah party Upko with PKR, DAP and Amanah, and its rival Gabungan Rakyat Sabah comprising Perikatan Nasional (PN), Barisan Nasional (BN) and PBS, have their own strengths.
Other parties seen as a third force are PCS, led by former foreign minister Anifah Aman, and Usno led by former Dewan Rakyat speaker Pandikar Amin Mulia.
Almost all of the 73 seats will see at least five candidates contesting.
In 2018, Warisan, which Shafie formed a year after his dismissal from Najib Razak’s Cabinet in 2015, managed to win 21 seats. Together with Pakatan Harapan allies and with defections from Upko, Shafie achieved majority support and was sworn in as the 15th chief minister.
The election this time is also held against the backdrop of Covid-19, which has seen a spike in Sabah in recent weeks.
While Fann said this would not stop people from coming to vote, Zaini said it could affect voter turnout.
Yesterday, authorities reported 111 new infections nationwide, the bulk of which were in Sabah.
Seasoned Sabah observer Arnold Puyok, of the Society Empowerment and Economic Development of Sabah, said it was difficult to predict which way voters would swing this time.
He described the situation as “messy”, saying many had yet to make up their minds.
“This shifting of loyalties is very common in Sabah. That is why it is not easy to predict or make an observation on who will win the election.”
Puyok’s earlier findings concluded there would be a close race with PN and BN taking the lead against the Warisan bloc.
“At this moment, it seems like the gap is narrowing between the two groups,” he told an online forum.
Fazreen Kamal in Kota Kinabalu and Nur Hasliza Mohd Salleh in Kuala Lumpur contributed to this report.