Sabah Crisis – The Proxy War Between UMNO & Bersatu That Tries To Drag PM Anwar Into The Conflict

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Jan 14 2023
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Anwar Ibrahim appears to have won praises from not only Indonesian businessmen and people, but also its media. Based on the praises showered on the Malaysian 10th Prime Minister from news media and the overcrowded CT Corps Leadership Forum, clearly he is more popular than his predecessors combined – PM Muhyiddin Yassin and PM Ismail Sabri.


But it was not a fair comparison because both Muhyiddin and Ismail were merely backdoor premiers. That’s why President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo was the first foreign leader who congratulated PM Anwar on the same day of his inauguration on Nov 24. Over the phone, Jokowi can be heard praising Anwar as a very popular and respected figure among the Indonesian people.


Mr Anwar returned the favour with a visit, choosing Indonesia as his first foreign trip. He received a grand ceremonial welcome, including a red carpet welcome, a 19-gun salute, as well as an inspection of troops, not to mention a tour of Kebun Raya Bogor at the National Palace in Bogor. Anwar is so popular that he is being compared to Jokowi by Indonesians.

Anwar Ibrahim and Joko Jokowi Widodo - Chatting

As the new prime minister’s popularity skyrockets, it puts pressure on opposition Perikatan Nasional chairman Muhyiddin, whose RM92.5 billion corruption scandal involving Covid-19 stimulus programme could see him charged and jailed. Hence, Anwar-led unity government must be toppled by hook or by crook before Bersatu president Muhyiddin’s skeleton in the closet is exposed.


Perikatan Nasional has launched “two battlegrounds” against the Pakatan Harapan-led unity government. On one battlefield, religious extremist Abdul Hadi Awang is leading his PAS Islamist party in stirring up racial and religion sentiments among gullible Malays that the Democratic Action Party (DAP, one of four parties in Pakatan Harapan) is a threat to the Malays, Muslims and Islam.


From pressuring PM Anwar to ban travellers from China to instigating the government to close all number-betting outlets nationwide, despicable Hadi has been luring the prime minister into making anti-Chinese policies. He hopes that if Anwar is stupid enough to play into his hands, angry Chinese voters will abandon DAP and Anwar’s People’s Justice Party (PKR).

Hadi Awang - Worry About Losing Power

On the other battlefield, Bersatu party secretary-general Hamzah Zainudin is actively driving a wedge between UMNO and Pakatan Harapan. He knew the only way to snatch power is to make the United Malays National Organization quits the unity government, and the way to do that is to create “bad blood” between UMNO and PM Anwar.


The UMNO-led Barisan Nasional, despite losing spectacularly, has become the kingmaker after the general election where neither Pakatan Harapan nor Perikatan Nasional could form a government without its 30 MPs. Together with Pakatan, which won 82 parliamentary seats in the Nov 2022 general election, they have formed a simple majority government in the 222-seat Parliament.


Yes, that was how the recent Sabah political crisis exploded. On the surface, it appears that Sabah UMNO chief Bung Moktar Radin had led – and failed – a rebellion to topple Sabah Chief Minister Hajiji Noor. In reality, the Borneo state has become a proxy war between UMNO and Bersatu, the same way the ongoing proxy war in Ukraine is being fought between the U.S. and Russia.

Sabah Crisis - Hajiji Noor vs Bung Moktar

The man who plotted to put Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Harapan at loggerheads is none other than Hamzah, Muhyiddin’s lieutenant known as the architect behind the infamous “Sheraton Move”, a coup which led to the collapse of the democratically-elected Pakatan Harapan government after just 22 months in power. Now, the same game plan is played to snatch power.


Power-hungry Muhyiddin betrayed his friends when he withdrew support for Pakatan Harapan coalition back in 2020. Through betrayal and treachery, he willingly worked with corrupt UMNO and extremist PAS Islamist party to form the Perikatan Nasional backdoor regime. This time, the plan is to get UMNO betrays Pakatan Harapan by withdrawing its support for PM Anwar.


The trigger was fired when Hajiji terminated Salleh Said Keruak (a Barisan Nasional assemblyman for Usukan) as Qhazanah Sabah Bhd chairman without negotiations with the Sabah Barisan Nasional chairman Bung Moktar. Mr Hajiji also threatened Sabah UMNO with a Cabinet reshuffle without any discussion – obviously a deliberate provocation which left Bung with no choice but to retaliate.

Controversial Kinabatangan MP - Bung Mokhtar Radin

It was a declaration of war and a breach of agreement between Barisan Nasional and Perikatan Nasional when they first formed the state government following the Sabah election in Sept 2020. As a result, Sabah UMNO and Barisan Nasional announced on January 6, 2023 their withdrawal of support for Gabungan Rakyat Sabah (GRS) leader Hajiji Noor as chief minister.


However, the 27-month-old coalition state government did not collapse. Bung, a thuggish and arrogant UMNO leader, miscalculated the loyalty within his own party. Five of Sabah UMNO assemblymen went rogue, pledging support for the enemy instead. In the end, Hajiji still commanded the support of 44 out of 79 assemblymen, giving him enough seats to continue as Sabah chief minister.


Besides 29 GRS assemblymen, Mr Hajiji’s support came from Pakatan Harapan (7), Barisan Nasional (5), PAS Islamist party (1), Parti Harapan Rakyat Sabah (1) and independent (1). True, without Pakatan Harapan’s support, Hajiji would have been toppled. But it’s also true that without UMNO’s traitors, Hajiji too would have lost power. So, UMNO cannot blame Pakatan Harapan alone.

UMNO and Bersatu PPBM Flags

In truth, UMNO wanted to get revenge after backstabbed by Bersatu post-Sabah state election in 2020. Bung Moktar believed he was more qualified than Hajiji Noor as the chief minister, while Warisan president Shafie Apdal wanted the same chief minister post after lost it to Hajiji. By joining forces, both Bung and Shafie thought they could bring down Hajiji.


But when they failed, PM Anwar was dragged into the conflict. The premier had to fly directly to Sabah after his visit to Indonesia. Both Anwar and Zahid knew it was a trap to split their cooperation at the federal government. If the PM supports UMNO Sabah, he risks offending GRS, whose 6 MPs have pledged support for him. If the PM supports GRS, Bung might get offended.


Bung has previously complained that despite Sabah Barisan Nasional contributing 7 parliamentary seats, none of its MPs from the state were made ministers in Anwar’s Cabinet. However, the fact that UMNO president Zahid is keeping rather quiet over the Sabah crisis suggests that he is not ready to rock the boat and is convinced that Sabah UMNO can be controlled.

Anwar Ibrahim and Zahid Hamidi

Besides, Zahid has a bigger fish to fry – retaining his presidency in the party. The top priority is to maintain power at the federal government, not to create hostility with the prime minister just to protect silly Bung at the state level. After all, Zahid has already gotten the second most powerful position – Deputy Prime Minister. It would be foolish to risk everything to rescue Bung.


Between GRS’ 6 MPs and Warisan’s 3 MPs, it wasn’t a difficult choice for Anwar. As long as he could control Zahid, everything is under control in Sabah. Warisan president Shafie Apdal had not only bet the wrong horse that Barisan Nasional would win big in the 15th General Election, but also made the mistake of condemning former allies in Pakatan Harapan before the election. Now he has to pay the price.


Therefore, Anwar took the middle path of giving his blessings to Hajiji to remain as Sabah chief minister. At the same time, he diplomatically suggested the formation of a unity state government. Refused to be dragged into the conflict, the PM also said he could only advice, leaving Sabah leaders to make the final decisions under the pretext that the Borneo state enjoys its own autonomy.

Sabah Crisis - Zahid Hamidi, Anwar Ibrahim and Hajiji Noor'

By expressing his preference for Hajiji, the 10th Prime Minister has sent a message that Pakatan Harapan despises any attempt to create a backdoor government. The neutral stance also means Bung isn’t protected, let alone above the law, and the judiciary system should not be intimidated by the UMNO warlord, who along with his wife Zizie Izette, are facing corruption charges.


In the same breath, it sends a message that Pakatan Harapan cannot be held hostage by governing partners, including UMNO, who might extract concessions by blackmailing PM Anwar. It also sends a message to Hajiji that he could easily lose power if not for Pakatan Harapan’s support. More importantly, it sends a message to Bersatu that its plan has failed.


On Dec 10, 2022, Sabah Chief Minister Hajiji Noor announced that leaders of Sabah Bersatu had quit the party en masse. But the cheap political drama fails to hide the suspicion that he is still loyal to Bersatu president Mahiaddin (Muhyiddin). Not only Bersatu secretary-general Hamzah had flown to Sabah to support Hajiji, he was accorded “special welcome” by Hajiji’s boys.

Hamzah Zainuddin

Bersatu or Malaysian United Indigenous Party desperately needs a power base. Despite leading the Perikatan Nasional coalition, Bersatu does not control a single state – except Sabah – before Hajiji pulled the stunt to quit the party. Its partner, PAS, controls Kelantan, Terengganu, Perlis and Kedah. By hook or by crook, Hajiji must defend Sabah at all cost on behalf of Bersatu.


Instead of creating bad blood between UMNO and Pakatan Harapan, Bersatu’s evil plot has strengthened Anwar’s grip on power, enabling Pakatan Harapan to be part of Sabah state government. The bad blood between UMNO and Bersatu, on the other hand, has worsened. Bersatu’s Trojan horse – Hajiji – is being blamed for not respecting PM Anwar’s suggestion of a unity government. But the crisis isn’t over yet.


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