The Story Nobody Tells You – Why Mahathir Hasn’t Campaigned In Sabah & Sarawak?

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May 07 2018
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Sabah and Sarawak, the two East Malaysian states known as Barisan Nasional’s fixed deposit, are the kingmakers. There are 31 parliamentary seats in Sarawak and 25 parliamentary seats in Sabah. Altogether, there are 56 parliamentary seats up for grab from these two states alone. That translates to 25% or a quarter of the total 222 parliamentary seats.


Both Sabah and Sarawak will ensure the survival of caretaker Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and his coalition Barisan Nasional (BN) in this 14th General Election. But if both states are so critical, why isn’t opposition master strategist Mahathir Mohamad paying any visit to either of the states? To ignore both seats is tantamount to give away 25% seats to Najib before the battle even started.


Is the 93-year-old former premier who had ruled the country for 22 years (1981 to 2003) really senile? Mahathir’s missing in action in Sabah was mocked by his rival Najib, saying – “In this campaign, he (Mahathir) wants to become prime minister again but strangely, if he wants to become prime minister again, how come he did not spend even a day campaigning here in Sabah?”


Mr. Najib mocked and laughed at Mr. Mahathir in Penampang, Sabah. Interestingly, this is Najib’s second visit to Sabah within a short campaign period of only 11 days. His first visit to the state (Sandakan and Tawau) was on April 30. Najib’s frequent visit to Sabah shows that he fears losing the state, otherwise why did he waste precious time flying over South China Sea for the state?


But how could Najib risk losing Sabah when Mahathir doesn’t even care about visiting the states? Going by the logic, Mahathir is driving the coalition Pakatan Harapan to its greatest defeat. Analysts said Mahathir did not visit Sabah and Sarawak because he was not popular among the people in the states. To add insult to injury, Mahathir reportedly called the Sabahans and Sarawakians lazy.


So, why must Mahathir be so dumb insulting the fixed deposit and not ball-sucking them, the same way Najib gladly did? After ruling the country for 22 years, Mahathir knew it will be a waste of time to campaign in both states. There’s a reason why Sabah and Sarawak are known as fixed deposit of Barisan Nasional. The opposition from Peninsula Malaysia can never penetrate the states.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak - Speech

But Mahathir doesn’t need to do anything in Sabah. Sabah Heritage Party, or simply “Warisan”, has struck a deal with Pakatan Harapan. Warisan president Mohd Shafie Apdal has an axe to grind. Mr. Shafie was one of the three vice-presidents of UMNO, the leading party in the Barisan Nasional coalition, before he was sacked by Mr. Najib.


And Mr. Shafie is leading the opposition coalition in Sabah. Mahathir knew that only a native Sabah like Shafie could give Najib a run for his money, therefore, the last thing to do is to join in the already crowded competition in Sabah. When Pakatan Harapan forms the federal government, their partner Warisan will be allocated minister posts in the federal cabinet.


Similarly, when Warisan forms its state government, there will be representatives from Pakatan Harapan. But Mahathir doesn’t have high expectation from Sabah. BN currently holds 21 of the 25 parliamentary seats. Warisan is contesting 16 parliamentary seats and 45 state seats. And if the calls for change are any indicator, the opposition could be looking at a surprise windfall.

Shafie Abdal - Parti Warisan Sabah

Najib has been trumpeting about peace, harmony, stability and prosperity every time he visits Sabah. Still, his promises of better lives and future prosperity fail to please sceptical Sabahans. The people of Sabah, like those in Peninsula Malaysia, are suffering the same problem – financial burdens due to GST introduced by Mr. Najib himself.


Ramli, a Sabahan, said – “The GST goes to the government. The people in Sabah get nothing. Barisan Nasional was good before. But as time goes by, it has changed. The poor have become poorer and the rich have become richer. Najib has made promises before but he did nothing. So I want change.”


Warisan is particularly strong in the East Coast’s Muslim-native areas, where Najib’s Barisan Nasional enjoyed 70-80% of the support. That explains why Najib has flown twice to Sabah while Mahathir hadn’t. Shafie could probably steal some of the parliamentary seats from BN and contribute them to the Pakatan Rakyat.

Statue of Cats - Kuching - Sarawak

But how about Sarawak? Mahathir doesn’t seem to bother about 31 parliamentary seats in Sarawak. Well, naughty rumours have it that certain “powerful” party in Sarawak has made a pact to “jump ship” when Pakatan Harapan manages to score “certain number” of parliamentary seats in Peninsula Malaysia. If true, that explains why Mahathir is so calm and cool about winning.


It’s worth noting that out of 25 parliamentary seats won by Sarawak BN in the 2013 general election, PBB (Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu) possessed 14 of them. Although Abdul Taib Mahmud, popularly known as “Pek Moh (白毛 or white-haired uncle)”, has retired and was given the “Yang di-Pertua Negeri” – a post equivalent to Sultan – he is still very influential.


It was Taib Mahmud’s friendship with Mahathir that had allowed him to freely rule Sarawak as Chief Minister from 1981 to 2014. As the former president of PBB, it is believed that he still call the shots behind the curtain. With the emergence of veterans such as Daim Zainuddin, Rafidah Aziz and Rais Yatim throwing support behind Mahathir, it’s not hard to see why Taib Mahmud could do the same.

Mahathir Mohamad and Taib Mahmud

Rafidah Aziz was Minister of International Trade and Industry from 1987 to 2008 while Daim Zainuddin was former Finance Minister of Malaysia from 1984 to 1991. Rais Yatim, meanwhile, was Chief Minister of Negeri Sembilan from 1978–1982 and was a minister in multiple federal governments from 1974 to 2013.


All of them – Rafidah, Daim, Rais, Taib – have one thing in common. They owed Mahathir big time. And this is perhaps the best time to payback Mahathir, when he is seeking to unseat the super-corrupt Najib Razak. After seeing how Mahathir, once ruled with iron-fist, is being worshipped like a hero now, it doesn’t need much convincing for 82-year-old Taib Mahmud to do the same.


However, in order for PBB Sarawak to switch side, Pakatan Harapan has to win enough parliamentary seats for form the federal government. Conservatively, Pakatan aims for 100 seats in Peninsula Malaysia. Assuming PBB could maintain its 14 seats, while DAP and Warisan maintain or snatch some extra seats, it would be sufficient to form the federal government.

Taib Mahmud - former Sarawak Chief Minister - and Wife

That explains why Mahathir is campaigning only in Peninsula Malaysia. He doesn’t need to worry about Sabah or Sarawak. His old buddy is his fixed deposit. And Najib’s mistake of sacking Shafie is coming back to haunt him. Even if Najib knows of Mahathir’s plan today, he can’t do anything. The “Pek Moh” is untouchable. The white-haired emperor has a closer relationship with Mahathir.


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