Webinar on “Sabah’s September 2020 State Elections: What Just Happened?”

In this webinar, Dr Arnold Puyok and Dr Anantha Raman Govindasamy reflect on the results of the freshly concluded polls of the Sabah state election. They unpack the wins and losses, the main factors that played out, and the implications of this historic moment.


Monday, 28 September 2020 – The ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute organised a webinar with Dr Arnold Puyok and Dr Anantha Raman Govindasamy as guest speakers to offer their analysis on the recently concluded Sabah state election. Dr Puyok is a Senior Lecturer in Politics and Government Studies at the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS). He has written extensively on electoral politics in East Malaysia, and the dynamics between federal and state governments. Dr Anantha is an Associate Professor at the Centre for Promotion of Knowledge and Language Learning, Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS), and Visiting Fellow at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute. His research publications focus on Malaysian and Southeast Asian politics.

Our panel of seasoned Sabah analysts, Dr Arnold Puyok and Dr Anantha Raman Govindasamy reflect on the results of the polls. Dr Lee Hwok Aun, Senior Fellow at the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute, moderated the webinar. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Dr Puyok began his presentation by situating the recent Sabah state election within the broader political trends since the watershed 2018 General Election (GE2018). In the recent Sabah election, the incumbent Sabah Heritage Party (Warisan) and her allies competed against Gabungan Rakyat Sabah (GRS). GRS is an informal coalition between Perikatan Nasional, Barisan Nasional and Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS). He subsequently explained the performance of the Warisan-led Sabah state government, including their attempts to implements reforms and re-negotiate the 1963 Malaysian Agreement (MA63) with Putrajaya. Dr Puyok shared that GRS consistently achieved a better poll rating over Warisan in the lead-up to the elections, as conducted by the Society Empowerment and Economic Development of Sabah (SEEDS). The actual election results closely mirror the poll ratings. Dr Puyok concluded his presentation with a background of the historical rivalries within the Kadazandusun Murut community. He opined that United Progressive Kinabalu Organisation (UPKO) failed to capture most seats it contested in this election as the Kadazandusun Murut electorate chose to align itself with PBS and Jeffrey Kitingan. 

Dr Anantha opined that BN and Warisan were the key contenders for the east coast of Sabah, with BN Sabah elites given more spotlight as compared to Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin (leader of PN) during the election campaigns. The leader of BN Sabah, Bung Moktar Radin, was featured prominently on election posters and rallies in the east coast regions. The electoral narrative of BN Sabah was structured around developmental concerns, while Warisan called for unity among Sabahans and a rejection of Peninsular intrusions. 

The webinar was attended by 100 participants from Singapore and abroad. During the question and answer session, issues raised include the selection of Chief Minister, mobilisation of grassroots machinery, a drop in turnout amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and the use of racial politics to discredit political opponents.

100 participants attended the webinar. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)