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Sabahan as Prime Minister

Sabahan as Prime Minister
After knowing he has little political clout, Mahathir has nominated Shafie (pic) as Prime Minister for Pakatan Harapan Plus.
MALAYSIA'S politics has never been more interesting after GE-14. From Mahathir's resignation as Prime Minister due to deadlock in power transition, appointment of Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin as 8th Prime Minister of Malaysia, and of course the Covid-19 pandemic which come along with Movement Control Order (MCO). Malaysia economy has suffered 63 billion lost due to MCO. The government introduced three unprecedented stimulus packages totalling RM280 billion to safe the economy.

As much as people were thinking what the exit plan would be to recover our economy, but the politics ‘who become the Prime Minister’ has never stopped against the backdrop of pandemic-led-economic crisis. To date, former Prime Minister Mahathir still discussing who will be the next Prime Minister. After knowing Mahathir has little political clout, he has nominated Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal as Prime Minister for Pakatan Harapan Plus. This nomination becomes a ‘beautiful surprise’ to the country, especially for Sabahan. Never in Mahathir political career ever nominated an East Malaysian to hold the highest position in the country. Majority of the Sabahan support this proposal and back Shafie as Prime Minister. Of particular note Mahathir also proposes Anwar Ibrahim and his son Mukhriz as TPM 1 and 2 respectively.
For the past few months, Mahathir has been wanting to become PM and negate Anwar has the support for the position. He also said that his party is multiracial which quite unlikely to get the Malay support. His obsession seems override Anwar intention to helm the position. But out of the blue, Chief Minister of Sabah who is a loyalist to Mahathir was named. While a lot of people question the capability and ability of Shafie, but that is not the main concern, after all he has been in politics so long and managed to topple BN government, of course through ‘frog politics’, defection from the BN component party.

Important question that need to ask here is that what is Mahathir political game?  Widely referred to political scientist, Mohammad Rahezzal Shah opined that Shafie as PM is not the end game for Mahathir, in fact it could be ‘means to justify the end’ to pursue his ‘political agenda’. As much as this proposal is interesting, there are few things that need to keep in mind. Ever since Mahathir become PM for the second time, his track record to honour his promise seem speaks with forked tongue, there are many promises he made – from institutional reforms to the widely saleable manifesto 20 percent oil royalty for Sabah. Some promise has been fulfilled such as abolishment of GST, revamp the government agencies, rationalised mega projects, increase special grant for Sabah from RM26.7 million to RM53 million, provide highest development budget for Sabah and Sarawak but others nope, then he dubbed manifesto is not a bible. But to be fair with Mahathir, politics is no longer in BN-like coalition, Pakatan Harapan is more like loose coalition, so the prime minister power is subject to the balance of power among his coalition members. Since power is not concentrated in PM office, this becomes institutional constraint to pursue policy agenda. 
Proposing Sabahan perhaps is one of the strategies for Mahathir to secure the number game in the parliament, it is hope with such nomination can make some members of parliament jump ship to support Shafie, though this is possible as we have witnessed change of government due to defection (nothing to be proud of here). Secondly, the popular believes that Mahathir again wants to block Anwar to become Prime Minister. This is the interesting part about the proposal of becoming Prime Minister, Mahathir argues that Anwar’s party is multiracial so does not bode well Malaysia’s political institutional set up. But what is the different with Warisan, it is multiracial too. Perhaps nominating Shafie is easier for Mahathir to ‘call the shots’ for any political manoeuvring as compared to Anwar? If so then it will give a huge backlash to the Chief Minister of Sabah political career, which currently quite shaky after Musa Aman’s 46 corruption cases and money laundering has been dropped.  Another intriguing question is that why the proposal becoming PM evolves around Mahathir who does not have majority in Pakatan Harapan if compared with PKR? Why can’t nomination come from PH presidential council?

Another popular opinion is that if the Chief Minister of Sabah becomes PM, Shafie can bring about tremendous development to Sabah. Sabahan need to be careful with such ‘enormous expectation’. Becoming PM in this new era of Malaysia politics is unlike two decades ago, whereby power is concentrated at PM office, as mentioned above, power are diverse and subject to institutional constraint due to the loose coalition. Most people in Sabah hold the perception that once Shafie become Prime Minister he able to materialise the 20 percent oil royalty (that is equal to RM6.8 billion higher than the Sabah annual budget), address unemployment (highest in the state), transform the Borneo state as industrial hub, and so forth. Perhaps he can to some extend but institutional constraint and depending on loose-coalition power might hijack his Sabah agenda. Becoming PM the focus is no longer one state but rather the whole nations.

The Chief Minister of Sabah needs to be careful about this proposal and whatever discussion behind close door. The Warisan Party just started its administration for two years, it is one the local based party that focuses on Sabahan’s rights and the broad socioeconomic issues. This state is one of the main contributors to the Malaysia’s GDP (ranked 5th) and contribute close to 56 percent of its resources (petroleum, palm oil, coco, agriculture produce, fisheries, etc). The state needs stable government and strategic policy focus for economic development. Bogged down with too much political chicanery can plague Sabah economic growth. The Chief Minister of Sabah need to think carefully before going into Mahathir's political game.



Dr Firdausi Suffian is a Senior Lecturer in Political Economy at UiTM Sabah.

** The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of Astro AWANI.