Malaysia's largest state kicked off its election campaign yesterday, with the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition getting off to a good start by winning two seats uncontested, and with the main opposition parties contesting against one another in many seats.
The Sarawak state election comes against the backdrop of continued financial controversy plaguing Prime Minister Najib Razak.
Sarawak has long been seen as a stronghold state for BN, and Datuk Seri Najib is counting on a big win by Sarawak BN to solidify his position amid the scandal enveloping his brainchild, state investment firm 1Malaysia Development Berhad.
Sarawak BN, led by Chief Minister Adenan Satem's United Bumiputera Heritage Party (PBB), yesterday won two of the 82 seats in the state assembly uncontested, after the opposition failed to put up viable contenders. "We come into this election in all confidence that we can win a majority and continue to be the next government. The initial signs are very good," Tan Sri Adenan told reporters.
Some 1.14 million registered Sarawak voters will be eligible to vote in the polls on May 7, after a 12-day campaign period.
Mr Adenan, who will reveal the election manifesto today, has called on voters to judge the state's leadership based on what he called the "53 principles and actions" he has implemented in the past two years.
These include the construction of a highway linking Sarawak's major towns to neighbouring Sabah state, abolishing highway tolls, reducing electricity tariffs and ferry charges, and obtaining more autonomy for Sarawak. Analysts say these policies have boosted Mr Adenan's standing among voters.
A survey by pollster Merdeka Centre this month showed that the PBB president enjoyed an 81 per cent approval rating in January this year - a far cry from his controversial predecessor Abdul Taib Mahmud who ruled for 33 years to 2014.
However, Mr Adenan is expected to face a struggle to recover the 13 urban constituencies lost to the opposition in the 2011 polls. This is because urban residents believe in a strong opposition for the state, which is rich in timber and is formerly known as the Land of the White Rajahs, in reference to the English Brooke family who ruled the territory.
Also, Mr Adenan has been unable to placate several BN splinter parties by offering them several seats, leading to some of these disgruntled candidates to stand as independents. Fortunately for Sarawak BN, the opposition parties - which have been making ground in Sarawak over the past decade - are in some disarray.
Opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan (PH)'s allies, Parti Keadilan Rakyat and Democratic Action Party, which were unable to reach a consensus on seat allocations, will face off each other in six constituencies. PH candidates will also fight against those from its former ally Parti Islam SeMalaysia in 10 seats.
Mr Najib said the opposition's failure to agree on seat distributions showed their alliance was weak.
"Today gave a clear picture of how the opposition failed to get a consensus in several constituencies. It is a sign that they are not capable of forming a government that can win over the confidence of the people of Sarawak," he told reporters.