The outcome of the Sabah election is as much a referendum on the Warisan-led government as it was on Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, Umno insiders in the state say.
This comes hours after Hajiji Noor, Bersatu’s choice for Sabah chief minister, was sworn in despite protests from Zahid and a section of Umno leaders in the peninsula.
Zahid was among key federal Umno figures who had been campaigning hard for Barisan Nasional.
“But in the end, Sabah Umno was not excited about pressing for the party’s Bung Moktar Radin to head the state government.
“What this shows is that Zahid and Umno leaders from the peninsula no longer have sway in Sabah politics,” an Umno source told MalaysiaNow.
Zahid’s failure to push Bung as CM is being increasingly seen as a sign that he has lost control of Sabah Umno.
Sabah Umno was largely unaffected by the massive allegations of corruption involving the party’s federal leadership in the run-up to the 2018 election, with then-chief minister Musa Aman performing better than most of his counterparts in other states.
But the eventual fall of Sabah Umno in the state through defections in May 2018, as well as the exodus led by Hajiji months later, have often been blamed on Zahid.
For years, grassroots party leaders had called for greater autonomy for state Umno leaders in what was seen as a bid to calm the increasing sentiments of nationalism in Sabah, among both the opposition as well as Umno members.
Those sentiments were among the factors which swept Warisan to power, as the party formed by Shafie Apdal successfully exploited the anti-peninsula sentiments to work against Umno.
In September 2018, it was Hajiji himself, as state Umno chief, who raised the issue of greater autonomy during a meeting with Zahid.
Zahid had then assured Sabah Umno of more autonomy.
But two months later, Hajiji led massive defections from Umno in preparation for the party’s arch-rival at the time, Bersatu, to gain a foothold in Sabah.
“So it deals a blow to Zahid when the same person who engineered the exodus from Umno now becomes the chief minister,” a former assemblyman told MalaysiaNow.
Persistent calls from Umno leaders in Kuala Lumpur to appoint their man as CM failed to rile up even Bung, who publicly declared his support for Hajiji.
Bung, who is now Hajiji’s deputy, also rejected suggestions of a rift within the new government comprising Gabungan Rakyat Sabah, the coalition under which Bersatu, Umno and PBS took on Shafie’s Warisan and its allies.
“I am confident that we will be working together for the long term,” Bung told newsmen at his home.
“Our focus is to help the state government with economic growth and to defend the people and implement the promises in the manifesto we have offered to the people,” he added.
Some have also compared Zahid’s failure to get an “Umno CM” with PKR leader Anwar Ibrahim’s failure to secure 14 candidates from his party to contest under the Warisan Plus coalition.
“The only difference is while Anwar was snubbed in Sabah before the election, Zahid was snubbed after,” said a Sabah Umno member.