What you need to know about the 2020 Sabah elections

Warisan candidates including Shafie Apdal (middle) campaigning on Sept. 12. Photo: Shafie Apdal /Facebook
Warisan candidates including Shafie Apdal (middle) campaigning on Sept. 12. Photo: Shafie Apdal /Facebook

Election season has begun in the state of Sabah and more than a million people across 73 districts are expected to head to the polls on Sept. 26 to cast their votes. 

A whopping total of 447 candidates, mostly from 20 political parties, are running for office in the first-ever major election since the surprise Perikatan Nasional government took over the reign from Pakatan Harapan, forcing former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad to resign. But it was the power struggle between incumbent Shafie Apdal and predecessor Musa Aman that had led to the dissolution of the legislative assembly and Shafie to call for elections in July.

Here’s a digest of everything you need to know about the upcoming Sabah state elections, the latest in Malaysia’s ever-evolving political landscape. 

Important dates, numbers

  • Jul. 30: Legislative Assembly dissolved; Sabah Chief Minister Shafie officially calls for elections 
  • Jul. 31: Election commission announced additional 13 parliamentary seats, bringing the total number of seats to be contested to 73
  • Sept. 12: Election campaigning officially begins
  • Sept. 26: Sabahans go to the polls
  • Number of candidates: 447
  • Number of parties: 20
  • Number of independent candidates: 60
  • Number of eligible voters: About 1.12 million

List of political parties contesting:

  • Sabah Heritage Party (Warisan)
  • United Progressive Kinabalu Organisation (UPKO)
  • Democratic Action Party (DAP)
  • Sabah People’s Unity Party (PPRS)
  • Sabah People’s Hope Party (HR)
  • Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)
  • Love Sabah Party (PCS)
  • Sabah Native Co-operation Party (Anak Negeri)
  • Sabah Nationality Party (PKS)
  • United Sabah National Organization (USNO)
  • Sabah’s People Party (GAGASAN)
  • People’s Justice Party (PKR)
  • Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA)
  • United Sabah People’s Party (PBRS)
  • Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP)
  • Homeland Solidarity Party (STAR)
  • United Malays National Organisation (UMNO)
  • Malaysian United Indigenous Party (Bersatu)
  • United Sabah Party (PBS)
  • The National Front (BN)

Why are the elections happening?

The Sabah elections were called following growing tensions between Sabah Chief Minister Shafie Apdal, who is also the leader of the Warisan party, and UMNO’s Musa Aman. Shafie won in the 2018 general elections and was appointed chief minister after some switched allegiance to his side, forcing Musa to step down from that role after 15 years. 

Musa was keen on wresting the state back from Shafie but not through democratic processes. He had allegedly attempted to bribe Sabah’s elected representatives in the hopes that they would defect to his side, according to the Centre to Combat Corruption and Cronyism independent organization. At least five of them did, including Tanjung Batu rep Hasmidah Samad and Balung rep Osman Jamal. 

After the election was called, Musa revealed that he would not contest without elaborating further. Shafie will run for office in the Kota Kinabalu state capital as well as the Senallang, Semporna constituency. 

Candidates, parties to look out for

Shafie is expected to go against four other candidates in Senallang, including his nephew Norazman Utoh Nain, who is the current deputy head of Bersatu. In the 2018 general election, Shafie won a majority of votes after competing against BN’s Nasir Sakaran. 

Less than 10% of candidates running in the coming elections are women, with Warisan’s 39-year-old Rina Jainal being the most prominent as one of the youngest candidates. 

Other candidates to look out for in the Sabah elections include Mohd Fazil Ajak from LDP, Wilfred Madius Tangau from UPKO, and independent candidate Robert Richard Foo. 

Voting process

Political drama aside, the main concern regarding the Sabah state election was that it was taking place in the middle of an ongoing pandemic. Sabah has recorded 864 COVID-19 cases so far, with 25 new infections yesterday. The death toll stands at 8. 

Large crowds are expected to form on polling day as the Election Commission has no plans to introduce postal votings. Sabahan voters in West Malaysia and overseas are urged to return to their hometowns to vote. 

Other stories to check out:

Syed Saddiq to lead ‘disruptive’ party of millennials after having no say in Bersatu

Youths speak up on student welfare, education in Malaysia’s first virtual parliament

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