Sarawak polls to take place on Dec 18

Early voting for Sarawak state polls will be held on Dec 14, said commission chairman Abdul Ghani Salleh.
Early voting for Sarawak state polls will be held on Dec 14, said commission chairman Abdul Ghani Salleh.PHOTO: BERNAMA

KUALA LUMPUR -  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 on Wednesday (Nov 24) 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 be applied to the Sarawak polls.

The curbs were put in place to prevent a repeat of the Covid-19 wave that happened after the Sabah state 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, total voter turnout was 65.9 per cent compared with 66.6 per cent for the Sabah polls.

Barisan Nasional (BN) won handsomely in Melaka, winning 21 out of 28 seats or a two-thirds majority.

The incumbent Sarawak government Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) - BN’s ally in the federal government - will expect to score a convincing win in Sarawak.

A coalition of  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 (PH) coalition (five) - all held by by PH member Democratic Action Party - Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (one); and an independent assemblyman.

There are two vacant seats in the state legislature.

Sarawak is the only one among Malaysia’s 13 states and three federal territories where Umno does not have a presence.

The state assembly’s five-year term expired in June, but the election was postponed after a localised emergency from Covid-19 concerns.  The emergency was lifted earlier this month to make way for 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 failed to get it over the line as an amendment needs the approval of two-thirds of parliamentarians. 

Sarawak’s election date also means that 18- to 21-year-olds in the state will be disenfranchised despite a law reducing 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 this year, as directed by a High Court ruling in Sarawak in September. 

Although the exact number of affected young people in Sarawak is unclear, it was previously estimated that the lowering of voting age could add at least five million people to Malaysia’s voter 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.