Sarawak state polls will be held on Dec 18

Nomination on Dec 6 will allow for 12-day campaign for 82 state assembly seats

Malaysia will hold a legislative election in the Borneo state of Sarawak on Dec 18, less than a month after the Melaka election which took place on Nov 20.

The Election Commission (EC) announced yesterday that nomination for the Sarawak election will take place on Dec 6, allowing for a 12-day campaign period. A total of 82 state assembly seats will be contested in Malaysia's biggest state, involving 1.25 million voters.

The election will take place amid concerns and warnings of a new Covid-19 wave in the country following the Melaka polls.

The EC and other authorities had banned almost all forms of physical campaigning during the Melaka polls, although the commission has yet to say if the same curbs will apply in the Sarawak vote. The restrictions were put in place to prevent a repeat of the Covid-19 wave that happened after the Sabah election in September last year.

The EC said it expects a 70 per cent voter turnout in Sarawak, similar to its forecast for the Melaka polls. In Melaka, voter turnout was 65.9 per cent compared to 66.6 per cent for the Sabah polls.

The Umno-led Barisan Nasional won by a landslide in Melaka, taking 21 out of 28 seats or a two-thirds majority.

The incumbent Sarawak government Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) - a BN ally in the federal government - is expecting to score a convincing win in Sarawak.

A coalition of four parties, GPS held 67 of the 82 state constituencies - or 82 per cent of total seats - before the assembly was dissolved this month.

The opposition has 13 seats: Parti Sarawak Bersatu (six); Pakatan Harapan coalition (five) - all held by by PH member Democratic Action Party; Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (one); and there is one independent assemblyman.

There are two vacant seats in the state legislature.

The state assembly's five-year term expired in June, but the election was postponed following a localised emergency amid Covid-19 concerns. The emergency was lifted earlier this month to allow for the election.

The Sarawak election will take place on the heels of a proposed constitutional amendment that is set to elevate the status of Sarawak and Sabah as part of the Malaysian federation.

The government earlier this month tabled the amendment that would recognise Sabah and Sarawak as two of three entities in the federation - the other being Peninsular Malaysia. The amendment also provides for greater autonomy for the states to define their own natives.

The elevation of Sabah and Sarawak's status has long been demanded by Borneo politicians, as it reflects the spirit of the original Malaysian Agreement of 1963.

The previous Pakatan Harapan administration had proposed a similar constitutional amendment in 2019, but could not get it passed.

Sarawak's election date also means that 18-to 21-year-olds in the state will be disenfranchised despite a law lowering the voting age having been passed in 2019.

The EC has yet to implement the new lowered voting age, though it will come into effect by Dec 31, as directed by a High Court ruling in Sarawak in September.

Although the exact number of affected youth in Sarawak is unclear, it was previously estimated that the lowering of the voting age could add at least 5 million people to Malaysia's list of 15 million voters. Sarawak's opposition parties have criticised GPS for pushing for state polls before the new voting age comes into effect.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 25, 2021, with the headline 'Sarawak state polls will be held on Dec 18'. Subscribe