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Sarawak election not a barometer of Najib's popularity

ANALYSIS As the clock ticks towards the end of the campaign week in Sarawak, both sides of the coalitions are gearing up for polling day this Saturday.

The 11th Sarawak state election will be the very first litmus test for Adenan Satem, who gained popularity since taking over as the fifth chief minister from his predecessor, Abdul Taib Mahmud.

Taib, 79, became the fourth chief minister of Sarawak for 33 years and ended his office in 2014 to pave the way for Adenan. Taib is also the current governor of Sarawak.

In the last 2011 state election, BN maintained its status quo by winning two-thirds of the 72 seats contested while Sarawak DAP doubled the number from six to 12 seats.

PKR, however, wrested only three out of 49 seats contested.

Without the image of Taib in this election, BN is set to secure yet another victorious journey towards winning at least two-thirds of the 82 seats up for grabs.

However, despite the "obvious" prediction of BN's victory in Sarawak, it cannot be fully attributed as support for Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak who is also the BN chairperson.

Malaysiakini recently spoke to University of Tasmania's Asia Institute director James Chin who opined that the voting pattern in Sarawak is entirely different from that of peninsular Malaysia.

"This is problematic; many people in peninsular Malaysia think the election result is a barometer of how popular Adenan is, how popular Najib is, how popular BN is.

"I can tell you, having observed elections in Sabah and Sarawak for many years, there is no similar voting patterns. So, what happens in Sabah and Sarawak will probably not happen in peninsular Malaysia," Chin explained.

The only time when there was a similarity in the voting pattern was in the last general election in 2013 where the Chinese community in Sabah and Sarawak voted in unison with peninsular Malaysia.

The sentiment in Sabah and Sarawak cannot be seen as equal with the sentiments in peninsular Malaysia, Chin pointed out.

Change in political configuration

The last general election in May 2013 saw BN losing yet another two-thirds majority in Parliament. The next general election is slated to be held in 2018.

"I suspect in the next general election if it is called before 2018, the whole situation will be very different, for the very simple reason that the political configuration in peninsular Malaysia has changed completely," Chin said.

He stressed that the reasons behind the possible change is because of the assumption that the current two coalitions may not be a reality then.

"The reality is that in two years to come, you don’t have that anymore. You will have Barisan Nasional, Pakatan Harapan and then you have a strong Malay-based PAS standing on its own in between these two coalitions.

"Whatever patterns that you saw in the last two general elections, you cannot apply in this coming general election because PAS is no longer with the opposition coalition," he added.

Umno currently holds the largest number of seats in Parliament within BN with 88, followed by Sarawak-based Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB) with 14 seats.

A combined number of parliamentary seats from the conventional partners in BN, MCA and MIC are still smaller than that of PBB alone with 11 seats.

"If you take away the 25 MPs from Sarawak, basically the Barisan government falls because the margin of victory for the BN government is currently at 21 seats. That’s why Sarawak is very crucial.

"Most people do not realise that the second largest party in BN now is actually PBB, and that’s the reason why now PBB has many ministers in federal government. Nowadays, the BN in Malaysia is essentially Umno plus Sarawak BN," Chin commented.

Najib 'avoiding' urban areas

Many would have thought that Najib and his cabinet ministers have been 'camping' in Sarawak since nomination day on April 25 may be the first time of such move to secure the 'fixed deposit' for BN.

Chin said Najib was 'camping' in Sarawak even in the last 2011 election but the key difference now is that the cabinet ministers are doing a lot more visits in the rural areas.

They have essentially not been campaigning in the urban seats, knowing that Najib is quite unpopular in these areas.

He said that the move is primarily because the urban voters are worried about the 1MDB crisis because they will affect the ringgit and the Malaysian economy.

However, the rural voters do not really care much about the 1MDB scandal, and therefore, Najib is much more effective in the rural areas, Chin added.

"The Sarawak election is really a non-event. I think that Adenan will win even before he calls for the election.

"For Sarawak election, it has always been what will be the margin for BN victory: will it be an overwhelming margin or will it be a slight margin, but they are always going to win," he said.

As for the opposition camp, the trouble brewing between DAP and PKR is still unresolved despite the numerous negotiations and discussions at the federal level.

With DAP trying to expand its influence in the bumiputera seats traditionally contested by PKR in Sarawak, will it be doing the same in peninsular Malaysia too?

"If they (DAP) go beyond the Chinese area, are they going to face the same issue, if PKR is trying to block them in the next general election as well?

"These are among some of the issues that will remain unresolved even after the election. In other words, we can expect more interesting things after this state election," said Chin.

Part 1: Adenan’s three clever moves to win the Sarawak election

NORMAN GOH is a member of the Malaysiakini Team.

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