A leaked US embassy cable has lent credence to Pakatan Rakyat leader Anwar Ibrahim's claim that a group of Sabah and Sarawak politicians had planned to defect from the BN on Sept 16, 2008, over the marginalisation of the two states.
An entry in the cable, posted by Wikileaks, Sabah former Chief Minister Salleh Said Keruak had told US embassy officials that potentially more than half of the 25 Sabah MPs were ready to abandon the BN, following the precedent set by the SAPP.
The cable claimed further that embassy officials found "no expressions of support" for Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's leadership among the senior Sabah politicians held a series of meetings from June 18-20 in that state that year.
"Matter-of-factly, Salleh stated that between (eight) and 14 BN MPs (out of Sabah's 25 seats) would leave the BN, naming (five) from Umno and (four) from Upko, in addition to (two) from Sapp," the cable, dated June 24, 2008, read.
This is the first time a source outside of Pakatan has lent any legitimacy to Anwar's Malaysia Day claims, which eventually turned out to be a dud despite months spent declaring that the opposition would take over the federal administration on the symbolic date.
Talk of the purported defections were not helped by a "study tour" in Taiwan organised by the BN backbenchers club (BNBBC) - consisting largely of MPs from Sabah and Sarawak - in the weeks before Sept 16, with claims that it was to block attempts to woo the MPs over to the other side.
The situation became even more suspect when a five-member team from PKR followed suit a few days later, with vice-president Tian Chua - then the publicity chief - confirming that they would be meeting "some MPs" to rethink their positions in the BN.
BNBBC chief and Bintulu MP Tiong King Sing, however, denied that the tour had any objectives outside the official line that they were there to learn about Taiwan's agriculture industry.
Loathing Abdullah, distrusting Anwar
The cable, marked confidential, however, stressed that while senior Sabah politicians were unanimous in their disgruntlement over Abdullah's (right) leadership, they at the same time had little support for Anwar.
This appeared to be the case across political lines, with old wounds clearly still raw over Anwar's purported role in the toppling of the PBS state government in 1994 when he was deputy prime minister in Dr Mahathir Mohamad's administration.
The cable said Salleh, described as an "Umno warlord", and Sapp president Yong Teck Lee - also a former chief minister - had both pointed out Anwar's popularity in Sabah, especially among local Malays, but stated little else in terms of support for the former Umno stalwart.
PBS president Joseph Pairin Kitingan, a direct casualty of his party's downfall in 1994 from a string of defections to BN, made his stand clear against Anwar, who he described as someone who "is only interested in becoming prime minister", as quoted in the cable.
More intriguingly, however, is the alleged statement of the then-state DAP chief and current Kota Kinabalu MP Hiew King Cheu, who the cable quoted as "scornfully" saying; "why should anyone sacrifice for Anwar's ambitions?"
The cable also cited discussions by "some Sabah politicians" of forming a third block outside of BN and Pakatan, with support - especially from DAP - for Umno veteran and former Semangat 46 chief Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah to lead a third parliamentary block incorporating "disaffected MPs" from Umno, East Malaysia and opposition parties PKR and DAP.
"Other politicians, including PBS leader Pairin, simply appeared to endorse DPM Najib taking over immediately from Abdullah," the cable added, in reference to Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, who served as deputy premier during Abdullah's term.
Defections needed to clean out EC
A separate cable, issued a month earlier on May 13 also classified as confidential, quoted the then PKR vice-president Azmin Ali as saying that some BN Parliamentarians were expected to announce their defections between May 17 and 18, describing it as an important move to avoid "manipulation" of the electoral rolls ahead of a planned by-election that eventually saw Anwar elected to Parliament.
The cable quoted Azmin, now the party's deputy president, as claiming that the Election Commission would delay any by-election to the very end of the 60-day period to give BN and the commission time to "manipulate the electoral roll" and guarantee that Anwar would lose.
Azmin had apparently argued that it was better for the opposition to first take in BN defectors and form an interim government, before having a by-election to allow Anwar to contest and win a parliamentary seat.
"Once the Peoples' Alliance (Pakatan) obtains the mandate to form the government, it will immediately oust the current Election Commission chairman, who is seen as able to block Anwar's chances of becoming an MP," the cable said.
The EC chief at the time was Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman, who served until his retirement in December, 2008 after overseeing seven general elections. He was succeeded by the then Home Ministry secretary-general Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof.