Sarawak state polls a test of support for Najib

Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem
Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem

Assembly to be dissolved on April 11 and election held within 60 days after that

KUCHING • Malaysia's Sarawak state will dissolve its assembly on April 11, paving the way for elections that are seen as a test of support for Prime Minister Najib Razak.

The Election Commission will fix the nomination and polling days after the assembly is dissolved, the New Straits Times newspaper said on Twitter, citing Chief Minister Adenan Satem.

An election must be held within 60 days of the dissolution.

Tan Sri Adenan's press conference yesterday was attended by leaders from Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu and Parti Rakyat Sarawak. Notably absent were those from other member parties of Barisan Nasional (BN): Sarawak United Peoples' Party (Supp) and Sarawak Progressive Democratic Party (SPDP).

Mr Adenan yesterday hit out at the ongoing tussles for seats by Supp and SPDP against their respective breakaway parties - United People's Party and Sarawak People's Energy Party - warning that any feud between both camps could give opposition parties a chance to win in the state elections. Datuk Seri Najib is counting on Mr Adenan's popularity to retain support for the BN coalition in the Sarawak polls.

SHOO-IN

Najib needs a strong win in Sarawak to build momentum for the next general election. Adenan can take full credit for Sarawak but of course Najib will put in a lot of appearances because this is a sure win for BN.

DR JAMES CHIN, director of the Asia Institute at the University of Tasmania.

The Prime Minister is embroiled in a funding scandal that has led opposition politicians to call for his resignation, and which risks eroding support for the coalition that has been in power federally since independence in 1957. That alliance won re- election in 2013 with its narrowest margin yet and lost the popular vote for the first time.

Mr Najib has denied any wrongdoing amid questions over US$681 million (S$915 million) that appeared in his accounts before the 2013 election, money that the government said was a political donation from the Saudi royal family.

"Najib needs a strong win in Sarawak to build momentum for the next general election," said Dr James Chin, director of the Asia Institute at the University of Tasmania.

"Adenan can take full credit for Sarawak but of course Najib will put in a lot of appearances because this is a sure" win for BN.

Sarawak, with its oilfields, hydroelectric dams and rainforests, was Malaysia's third-biggest contributor by state or federal territory to gross domestic product in 2014, accounting for about one-tenth of output.

The result of the state polls is key in part because the assembly's composition determines if the chief minister is an ally to Mr Najib.

A study by Universiti Malaysia Sarawak showed Mr Adenan's popularity rose to 84 per cent in January from 74 per cent in June, state news service Bernama reported last month, citing Deputy Prime Minister Zahid Hamidi.

BN lost eight seats in the last Sarawak state polls in 2011. The state has 31 federal seats, of which BN holds 25. This year's elections, widely expected to be called in April, will see 82 seats up for grabs, compared with 71 in the 2011 polls.

BLOOMBERG, THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 01, 2016, with the headline 'Sarawak state polls a test of support for Najib'. Print Edition | Subscribe