Sarawak set for polls with assembly dissolved

Sarawak has long been a BN stronghold and it will likely win the election easily because of the popularity of Tan Sri Adenan (left).
Sarawak has long been a BN stronghold and it will likely win the election easily because of the popularity of Tan Sri Adenan (above).PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

State polls likely to be a boost for Najib with BN likely to romp home

Sarawak's state assembly was dissolved yesterday, paving the way for an election widely expected to be a boost for the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition at a time when its popularity is waning in peninsular Malaysia.

The nation's largest state by area has long been a BN stronghold and the coalition will likely romp home because of Chief Minister Adenan Satem's popularity among voters.

BN's victory in Sarawak would also solidify Prime Minister Najib Razak's position as the coalition's leader, despite the financial scandal surrounding state investor 1Malaysia Development Berhad.

As one of the poorer states in Malaysia, bread-and-butter issues remain the top concern among Sarawakians - an irony considering the state's rich natural resources.

A survey by independent pollster Merdeka Centre found that despite over half of those polled feeling the state had been unfairly treated by the federal government, 55 per cent said the state government was headed in the right direction.

The centre's poll on Tan Sri Adenan's support among Sarawakians showed 74 per cent of respondents satisfied with his performance since he took over from controversial former chief minister Tun Abdul Taib Mahmud.

A win in Sarawak would be a boost for BN, crucially needed at a time when support for the government among Malay voters is at its lowest. Last October, a private briefing by the Merdeka Centre to financial analysts showed support from Malays had dipped to 31 per cent.

The opposition, though, has faced headwinds trying to gain support in the state, with several key opposition leaders barred from entering. At least seven MPs have been denied entry into the state, which has immigration autonomy.

The state has also increased the number of seats from 71 to 82 after electoral boundaries were redrawn. Mr Chong Chieng Jen from the Democratic Action Party said there were "real chances" that the opposition alliance Pakatan Harapan could win 17 to 22 seats. Its constituents currently hold 14 seats.

Mr Adenan told reporters at the weekend that he is confident of winning 60 to 70 seats, up from 45 now.

Ahead of the state polls, the federal government has promised additional investment, including the 2,083km Pan-Borneo Highway which links the states of Sabah and Sarawak, and an industrial park. Mr Adenan has also allocated 74 per cent of the state government's budget this year towards development.

The Election Commission has announced that it will meet on Thursday to decide the dates for nomination and polling, as well as the electoral rolls to be used.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 12, 2016, with the headline 'Sarawak set for polls with assembly dissolved'. Print Edition | Subscribe