BN banks on Adenan to win back urban seats

The crowd (above) at a rally featuring BN candidates in the Sarawak state elections. BN is hoping the popularity of Sarawak Chief Minister Adenan Satem will help the ruling coalition reclaim urban seats lost in the last state polls five years ago. Ma
The crowd (above) at a rally featuring BN candidates in the Sarawak state elections. BN is hoping the popularity of Sarawak Chief Minister Adenan Satem will help the ruling coalition reclaim urban seats lost in the last state polls five years ago.ST PHOTO: EUNICE AU
The crowd (above) at a rally featuring BN candidates in the Sarawak state elections. BN is hoping the popularity of Sarawak Chief Minister Adenan Satem will help the ruling coalition reclaim urban seats lost in the last state polls five years ago. Ma
Many banners around the state feature Mr Adenan's face, his quotable quotes and a list of the things he has done in two short years for Sarawak.ST PHOTO: EUNICE AU
The crowd (above) at a rally featuring BN candidates in the Sarawak state elections. BN is hoping the popularity of Sarawak Chief Minister Adenan Satem will help the ruling coalition reclaim urban seats lost in the last state polls five years ago. Ma

In the first of a two-part series on Saturday's Sarawak state elections, The Straits Times looks at the battle playing out in the towns, many with big Chinese population

With the sky-high popularity of Sarawak Chief Minister Adenan Satem, Malaysia's ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition is hoping to ride the "Adenan fever" to reclaim urban seats after being soundly trounced in most towns in the last state polls five years ago.

Since succeeding the controversial Tun Abdul Taib Mahmud two years ago, Tan Sri Adenan has been pressing all the right buttons to woo voters, including the Chinese who mostly live in urban areas.

The 1.14 million eligible Sarawakians will vote for their state lawmakers on Saturday, after a 12-day campaign period.

With Sarawak's BN expected to retain the two-thirds majority in the expanded 82 state assembly seats, the focus has fallen on the 13 of the 15 Chinese-majority seats that the ruling coalition lost in 2011. BN won two Malay-majority seats uncontested on nomination day last Monday.

"We are using the Adenan brand, he is able to assist the Chinese community in many areas and we need to support him," Datuk Thiong Thai King, BN's candidate in Dudong, told The Straits Times.

Many banners around the state feature Mr Adenan's face, his quotable quotes and the list of the things he has done in two short years for Sarawak, which is Malaysia's largest state by land area .

Among the things touted by BN candidates is his championing of Chinese and Sarawak rights. Mr Adenan had condemned those who labelled the Chinese as "pendatang" (outsiders), and recognised the previously unaccepted United Examination Certificate offered in Chinese private schools in the state's civil service.

His push for more autonomy for the jungle-clad state, home to orang utans and hornbills, has also resonated with the more affluent urban electorate, as reflected in a Merdeka Centre survey in January.

Approval ratings for Mr Adenan among the Chinese was at 71 per cent against the dismal 15 per cent rating of his predecessor Abdul Taib in December 2013, before the latter stepped down the next year after leading Sarawak for 33 years.

BN candidate and heart surgeon Sim Kui Hian, who is president of the Sarawak United People's Party, told voters the new leadership of Mr Adenan is the best way forward to safeguard the state's interests.

A strong win for Sarawak BN and a rebound in Chinese support would also be a boost for Prime Minister Najib Razak, who has been busy campaigning in the state.

Datuk Seri Najib is expected to use a strong victory in Sarawak to point out that his coalition has firm support, despite the financial scandals involving state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) that have eroded voters' confidence in Peninsular Malaysia.

BN hopes to recapture at least three of the lost 13 constituencies this Saturday.

Mr Lim Kit Siang, veteran leader of the Chinese-based Democratic Action Party (DAP), last Saturday said his party risked losing six or seven of the 12 seats won in 2011.

Trying to dampen the "Adenan fever", the opposition said the policies implemented by Mr Adenan had been advocated by the DAP in the past 10 years.

Dudong's incumbent assemblyman and opposition candidate Yap Hoi Liong told The Straits Times: "DAP has been championing these rights all this while but has been rejected... the Chinese are not so stupid, why only now he is implementing these?"

Still, some analysts say it will be an uphill task to convince urban voters to return to BN, as they are more aware of national issues such as the scandals concerning 1MDB and the unpopular 6 per cent goods and services tax (GST).

"One of the issues (raised by the opposition) that really sells is the dislike for GST," said associate professor Neilson Ilan Mersat of Universiti Malaysia Sarawak.

He said gains from the goodwill towards Mr Adenan may be undermined by BN's infighting, with disgruntled individuals who were not picked to represent the coalition joining the fray as independents.

Political analyst Awang Azman Awang Pawi told The Straits Times that the Chinese community might still gravitate towards ensuring checks and balances in the state government rather than be swayed by the "Adenan factor".

"Is it necessary to vote for Adenan when the policies have already been fulfilled?" Dr Awang asked.

Mr Cheah Ing Hock, 51, a hawker centre worker and a voter in Batu Kawah, said: "Just like a son without a father to watch over him, he will become naughty. So, our state government needs an opposition to watch over it too."

• Tomorrow, ST dissects the trends in Sarawak's rural constituencies

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 02, 2016, with the headline 'BN banks on Adenan to win back urban seats'. Print Edition | Subscribe