Sarawak Poll Offers Glimpse

Results of a recent state election in Malaysia likely have PM Najib Razak considering an early national vote.

The results of last weekend’s elections in the Malaysian state of Sarawak have left the nation’s prime minister with little choice but to roll the dice on an early national vote.

Nothing would give Najib Razak more pleasure than his own electoral mandate, particularly in light of his economic reform policies aimed at lifting Malaysia’s competitiveness and attractiveness to foreign investors.

The Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition fared well at the poll—well kind of—it won 55 out of the 71 seats in the state assembly and trounced the opposition.

In any other country that would be considered resounding. Not here.

BN was returned on a reduced majority after ethnic Chinese communities registered their displeasure, deserting the coalition in droves and Chief Minister Taib Mahmud who has led Sarawak since 1981 and more lately faced accusations of crony capitalism.

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The coalition secured just over 372,000 votes while a disparate batch of opposition parties, who failed to unite in the lead-up to the poll, improved their standing by mustering a little more than 300,000 votes.

Again a Malaysian election was hit by allegations of unfair play and irregularities.

This’ll add some desperately needed firepower to opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s political arsenal but in the cold light of day the performance by his Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) can only be described as abysmal. PKR won just 3 out of the 49 seats it contested.

In comparison the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP) did well by winning 12 out of the 15 seats it contested.

All this indicates that BN and Najib’s United Malaysia National Organization (UMNO), the lead party in the coalition at the federal level, still has a long way to go if they’re to recapture ground lost in the 2008 general election when it saw its worst result since independence in 1957. UMNO lost its cherished two-thirds majority at that election, resulting in the resignation of then Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and Najib’s rise into the top post.

It hasn’t been an easy ride for Najib since then. Constant carping from the likes Mahathir Mohamad, the country’s longest serving leader, Islamic hardliners and Malay nationalists have ensured a difficult and sometimes controversial tenure.

An unprecedented early general election would offer Najib the opportunity to shut his critics up while maintaining much needed reforms which includes amendments to unfair laws favoring Malay natives, or bumiputeras, in business and other aspects of Malay life.

However, winning back the coveted two-thirds majority would be a tall order.