SABAH Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal (picture) has emerged as the wild card to rival Prime Minister (PM) Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin in the event of a snap election or a motion of no-confidence vote in Dewan Rakyat as the Opposition attempts to end a political stalemate.
Mohd Shafie’s nomination — which has been endorsed by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad — has at least inspired fresh hopes of ending the Opposition’s leadership impasse, with leaders in Sabah revelling at the prospect of a first PM from the state.
Bernama reported Mohd Shafie as saying that he needs some time to decide on the proposal.
“I am very grateful because the proposal came from Dr Mahathir. It is something I must consider carefully, as well as discuss it with the Warisan deputy president (Datuk Darell Leiking) and Warisan information chief (Datuk Dr Yusof Yacob).
“This is a great challenge for me. I take it seriously. Give me a little bit of time (to make a decision), it won’t take long,” he was quoted as saying yesterday.
However, many continue to be sceptical, especially as PKR has remained tight-lipped over the proposal. Political observers also expect Mohd Shafie’s candidacy to face opposition from politicians in the peninsula who view Sabah and Sarawak as inferior.
“Many will think the Malay political class in the peninsula, especially Umno and PAS, will never accept a non-Malaya Malay from becoming a PM. After all, Mohd Shafie is an ethnic Suluk although he is a Muslim,” Prof James Chin, director at the University of Tasmania’s Asia Institute told The Malaysian Reserve.
“He may once be a senior Umno leader, but this does not inevitably mean he will be accepted as PM by the Malays in the peninsula. They will probably only accept him as deputy PM,” he said.
Others may think Mohd Shafie’s nomination is simply a way to get Gabungan Parti Sarawak support and prevent PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim from securing the top post.
“No matter what the outcome is, the fact that he was nominated is a good thing. At least the precedence has been broken — that someone from Sabah and Sarawak can be considered for the PM post,” Chin said.
Sarawak DAP leader Chong Chien Jen has openly expressed support for Mohd Shafie, stating that the latter’s appointment as the PM could help repair race relations in the country.
“In his two years of governing Sabah, Mohd Shafie has shown to be a leader who promotes religious freedom and racial harmony, unlike many of the West Malaysia politicians, especially those from Umno and PAS, who tend to pander toward racism and religion to gain political support,” said Chong.
Calls for a snap election have heightened in recent weeks, as both sides of the political divide have been making references to preparations of a general election (GE). Recently, Umno deputy president Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan urged Putrajaya to hold an early poll to end the political uncertainty. Despite strong calls from several Perikatan Nasional (PN) MPs, Chin said most lawmakers will be against it as holding a GE is always risky with no guarantees.
“In the last GE, Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Razak was in front at the start of the campaign but in the last two days before polling, the mood changed against Najib. Anything can happen and most PN MPs are not that secured. Seat distribution will be another big headache. Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia is not going to give up its seats to Umno or PAS, and that will create a lot of tension,” he said.
Over in Parliament, Dewan Rakyat Speaker Tan Sri Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof has confirmed that Muhyiddin is seeking to replace him. Mohamad Ariff, who was appointed as House Speaker by the Pakatan Harapan coalition, said a motion had been submitted for his removal and his deputy Nga Kor Ming.
The motion is one of many, including a vote of no-confidence against Muhyiddin, filed for the upcoming parliamentary meeting. The Dewan Rakyat is scheduled to reconvene on July 13.