GPS returns to power in Sarawak state polls with two-thirds majority

As at 4pm, only 55 per cent of the 1.25 million eligible voters had turned out to cast their ballot. PHOTO: BERNAMA
Women from the Bidayuh Semban tribe showing their ink-stained fingers as proof that they voted in the Sarawak elections, on Dec 18, 2021. PHOTO: BERNAMA

KUALA LUMPUR - Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) won a whopping 75 seats in the Sarawak polls on Saturday (Dec 18), securing a two-thirds majority to again form government in Malaysia’s largest state.

The coalition, an ally of the federal government, has enjoyed a two-thirds supermajority for over three decades. It held 67 of the 82 state assembly seats before the assembly was dissolved earlier this year.

On Saturday it trounced its rivals and grew its power base. 

GPS chairman Abang Johari Openg, who was sworn in as Sarawak’s Chief Minister for the second time late Saturday night, won in Gedong with an overwhelming 3,607-vote majority.

Giving his victory speech, Tan Sri Abang Johari said the results were a clear sign that voters wanted political stability and continued development.

“(The people) have said that Sarawak is better looked after by Sarawakians,” he said.

The coalition contributes 18 MPs to Malaysia’s federal government. While the state elections do not affect the composition of Parliament, GPS’ strong showing bolsters Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s administration by showing it is supported by powerful allies heading into the next general election.

Meanwhile, the federal opposition pact Pakatan Harapan, led by Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, made little headway, repeating its lacklustre performance in the Melaka state elections in November.

Its component Democratic Action Party (DAP) managed to clinch two seats, a fraction of the seven seats the party had won in 2016. 

Mr Anwar’s Parti Keadilan Rakyat failed to win in any of the 28 seats it contested. It had won three seats in 2016.

Sarawak DAP chairman Chong Chieng Jen said the party respected the decision of the voters.

“We will take time to assess our losses and make some adjustments. Despite the defeat, we will continue our struggles and fight for the interests of the people,” he was quoted as saying by The New Straits Times daily.

Local outfit Parti Sarawak Bersatu managed to pick up four seats. There remained one seat left to count, after adverse weather conditions delayed the transport of ballot boxes by helicopter. 

While GPS was expected to win the election, issues such as the rise of Sarawak nationalism, low voter turnout and a lack of big political rallies due to the Covid-19 pandemic were among the key factors leading to the opposition losing, said University of Tasmania’s director of Asia Institute James Chin.

“This was not really an election. GPS had an overall advantage,” he told The Straits Times.

“Ismail Sabri doesn’t have to worry about Sarawak in the next general election,” he said, adding that GPS would be able to deliver even more MPs then. 

The state assembly’s five-year term expired in June, but the election was postponed when a state of emergency was declared due to Covid-19 concerns.

The emergency was lifted last month to allow the election to take place. Safety protocols, however, were put in place, with physical campaigning allowed only in rural areas.

Concerns over the pandemic as well as heavy rain across the state could have contributed to the relatively low voter numbers. The Election Commission said only 55 per cent of the 1.25 million eligible voters had turned out to cast their ballot as at 4pm.

Universiti Malaya sociopolitical analyst Awang Azman Pawi said GPS won because it held the confidence of voters.

“The main factor behind GPS’ win is the Sarawak voters’ confidence in them as they see GPS as being more stable,” he told ST.

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