Sarawak Election: What next for Malaysia's opposition?

A Malaysian holds her queue number at a polling station in Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia, May 7, 2016
A Malaysian holds her queue number at a polling station in Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia, May 7, 2016PHOTO: EPA

KUCHING (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - What lies ahead for Malaysia's opposition in Sarawak after their thumping defeat in the state elections on Saturday (May 7)?

Squabbling over seat distribution ultimately turned away supporters, especially the younger voters.

Many of these voters abstained from voting to punish the Democratic Action Party (DAP) and Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) for failing to form a united front against Barisan Nasional.

This was reflected in the relatively low voter turnout on Saturday, with only 52 per cent of some 1.1 million voters having cast their ballots an hour before polling closed.

Political analyst Assoc Prof Dr Mohd Faisal Hazis believes PKR and DAP spent far too much time at the beginning of the campaign period trying to justify the squabble in some seats.

As a result, the Opposition failed to build any momentum in this election as compared to 2011.

"The first day of campaign was them trying to explain to voters why they were contesting in the same seats," he said. "When you have a short period of time, the campaign is for you to win the fence-sitters because the majority have already decided who to vote for," the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia lecturer said on Sunday.

The Opposition also failed to build a strong message for Sarawakians in the post-Tun Abdul Taib Mahmud era, he said. Sarawak Governor Taib was Chief Minister during the last state election in 2011.

"You fail to build up momentum going towards the election, so people are just not willing to go out and vote," he said, adding that the infighting within Barisan did not have as much of a negative impact.

He added that the Opposition's gameplan was a far cry from 2011, when it hit the ground running by capitalising on dissatisfaction towards the state government.

"The major swing (towards the Opposition) in 2011 was due to Taib Mahmud. This election, that feeling of anger is no longer there."

The voter turnout on Saturday also reflects a form of silent protest by Sarawakians, who were perhaps unhappy with some of Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem's choice of candidates and also the Opposition's internal bickering.

According to Sarawak election researcher Prof Dr Awang Azman Awang Pawi, abstaining from voting was the neutral and safer option for most voters.

"Some Barisan supporters were dissatisfied with the choice of candidates, but still love the party and do not want to cross over to the Opposition, which doesn't have a proven track record in the state," he said.

"Therefore, their decision not to vote is considered a neutral step, and the best option for their party," said Dr Awang, a lecturer from Universiti Malaya.

The "Adenan factor" played a huge role in the outcome of Saturday's elections, with many relying on his popularity to get Barisan across the line comfortably.

"The Adenan factor led supporters to believe that they were already in a safe zone. This could be seen in victories at several Barisan hot seats such as Bawang Assan and Marudi," he added.

"Without the Adenan factor, it would have been impossible for Barisan to win this big," he added.