June 18, 2024

New Malaysia Times

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Anwar-led opposition faces paltry fortunes in Sarawak elections


Kuching, Dec 18 — Voters in Sarawak are set to reject the opposition alliance in the ongoing state elections, further increasing the pressure on Anwar Ibrahim to step aside as well as forcing a rethink in strategy ahead of a General Elections that may be called soon, possibly next year.

The polls in the Borneo island is expected to present another major defeat for Anwar’s Pakatan Harapan because the local parties that have controlled the state since independence are aligned with the ruling United Malays National Organisation.

The Anwar-led opposition was thrashed last month in the Malacca state election, thanks to an UMNO campaign led by disgraced former PM Najib Razak who focused on reviving a pandemic-battered economy.

Pakatan Harapan needs to transform into a policy-based coalition instead of a mere election-based alliance and form a shadow cabinet if it wants to compete said Wong Chin Huat, a professor of political science at the Jeffrey Sachs Center on Sustainable Development at Sunway University.

“With a shadow cabinet, Anwar’s potential heirs will naturally emerge. Without that, a new captain without a functioning team will not keep any excitement for long.”


Anwar’s own fortunes are also seeing a slide along with that of the opposition coalition.

There have been calls for him to resign and make way for younger leaders after the dismal showing in Malacca, which saw his own party completely wiped out.

Anwar has acknowledged the calls within the opposition coalition to step down but has brushed aside the need to do so immediately.

Anwar has struggled for decades to take power in Malaysia. He was seen as Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad’s successor in the 1990s before he was fired and spent six years in jail for abuse of power and sodomy.

He was sentenced to jail again in 2015 on a subsequent sodomy charge during Najib’s time as prime minister.

Rural Sarawak

Anwar and Mahathir mainly tapped voter disillusionment with UMNO in the 2018 elections to win big, focusing on Najib’s troubles with debt-laden state fund 1MDB.

This holds little traction in rural Sarawak then and even now, as pledges on building roads and raising incomes are the main issues.

“It is very, very difficult to dislodge the government there. That’s mainly because much of Sarawak is made up of small villages patronized by government-aligned chiefs who dictate which parties the voters should support” said James Chin, a professor at the University of Tasmania.

Elections in Sarawak are often an opportunity for voters to get cash and food handouts from the ruling parties in exchange for their support at the ballot box. Although it is illegal by law, that is rarely enforced.

Some 1.25 million voters in Sarawak will elect 82 lawmakers to the state assembly in the polls that were delayed due to a five-month Covid-induced emergency, which was lifted in November.