1985 Sabah state election

The 1985 Sabah state election was held between Saturday, 20 April and Sunday, 21 April 1985. This was the fifth state election to take place. Parti Bersatu Sabah won 25 out 48 seats contested, thus forming government with its president Joseph Pairin Kitingan being sworn in as Chief Minister.[1] This election is a milestone in Sabah political history as it marked the first time that a party not part of the nation's ruling coalition Barisan Nasional (BN) formed government.[2] PBS took control of the state from the previous ruling government under Parti Berjayaa partner of BN, which has been in power since 1976.

1985 Sabah state election

20–21 April 1985

All 48 seats in the Sabah State Legislative Assembly
25 seats needed for a majority
  Majority party Minority party Third party
Leader Joseph Pairin Kitingan Mustapha Harun Harris Salleh
Alliance Barisan Nasional
Last election 3 seats 44 seats
Seats won 25 16 7
Seat change New 13 37
Popular vote 101,908 71,457 84,194
Percentage 37.30% 26.15% 30.81%

Chief Minister before election

Harris Salleh
Barisan Nasional, (BERJAYA)

Elected Chief Minister

Joseph Pairin Kitingan


United Sabah Party101,90837.3025New
Sabah People's United Front84,19430.816–38
United Sabah National Organisation71,45726.1516+13
United Pasok Nunukragang National Organisation5,7392.101+1
Sabah United Native People's Party3,4901.280New
United Sabah People's Action Party2,9951.100New
Democratic Action Party2,3030.8400
Source: Yusoff[3]


Pairin, himself a former member of Party Berjaya, formed PBS barely 47 days before the elections.[2] Opponents of PBS, namely, Harris Salleh of Berjaya, and Tun Mustapha of USNO were dissatisfied with the result. Tun Mustapha then sought to get sworn in as Chief Minister illegally,[4] and this resulted in a court battle which ended in favour of Pairin.[5][6]

The election resulted in riots around Sabah between March and May 1986. Bombings occurred in Kota Kinabalu, and arson in other towns. The rioters were trying to bring down Pairin from being the head of the state government.

In 1986 itself, another election was announced following defections by PBS assemblymen to USNO. PBS won again, this time with a two-thirds majority.[7] PBS joined the Barisan Nasional coalition after this election, but later left the coalition in 1990.


  1. "Berjaya swept out of power". New Straits Times via Google News. 22 April 1985. p. 1. Retrieved 5 January 2023.
  2. K. Ramanathan Kalimuthu (1986). "The Sabah State Elections of April 1985". Asian Survey. Asian Survey, Vol. 26, No. 7. 26 (7): 815–837. doi:10.2307/2644213. JSTOR 2644213.
  3. Mohammad Agus Yusoff (2006) Malaysian Federalism: Conflict Or Consensus, p267
  4. Kalimullah Hassan (18 November 2007). "OPINION: Reforms yes, but not through violence in the streets". New Straits Times. Archived from the original on 21 December 2007. Retrieved 18 January 2008.
  5. Crossette, Barbara (1 October 1987). "Kota Kinabalu Journal; With Houses on Stilts and Hopes in Another Land". The New York Times. Retrieved 18 January 2007.
  6. "Historical Background". Parti Bersatu Sabah. Archived from the original on 15 April 2013. Retrieved 18 January 2008.
  7. "Is snap polls the answer?". The Star. 22 June 2008. Archived from the original on 6 September 2009. Retrieved 2 February 2009.
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