Sabah and Sarawak want greater autonomy and a higher revenue share from their oil and gas resources.
Whichever coalition can promise the Borneo bloc political leverage in Putrajaya will stand a good chance of forging an alliance with them, said analysts.
Despite a sweeping defeat this election, analysts said the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition remains important.
Since the leading coalitions refuse to work with each other, they will likely need BN’s support to form a majority.
PN has secured 73 seats so far, and needs 39 more to form a simple majority. This means it needs to partner with BN’s 30 seats while clinching another nine from other players.
“If PN is going to be saying no to UMNO (United Malays National Organisation) and no to PH, when you look at the numbers, without one of these two, they don’t have a majority,” said Dr Hutchinson.
For PH, it would need to either secure the Borneo bloc’s 28 seats along with another three seats from other parties, or develop an alliance with BN and add one more seat to achieve the majority.
“These numbers can move, and if you offer something that is attractive enough, then ideology can sometimes take a backseat for practicality,” said Dr Serina Abdul Rahman, a visiting fellow at ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute’s Malaysia Programme and Regional Economic Studies.