Thursday, October 14, 2010

Sarawak MPs see November state polls

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 14 — Speculation is rife among Sarawak MPs that the state assembly will be dissolved in November to pave way for state elections in which Barisan Nasional (BN) is expected to retain power while ceding ground to Pakatan Rakyat (PR).

The 2011 Budget announcement tomorrow is also expected to give added emphasis to the East Malaysian state to provide the catalyst for a dissolution of the state assembly early next month.

While BN is in no danger of losing the state government, winning by a two-thirds majority in the 71-seat chamber seems unlikely if the PR coalition of DAP, PKR and PAS perform as predicted.

DAP is expected to win most of the 17 Chinese-majority seats in Sarawak, but not without a hard fight as was seen in the recent Sibu by-election, which has a 76 per cent Chinese majority but was won marginally by DAP.

The Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP), in trouble with Chinese voters since 2006, is being told that BN will be able to form the next state government without a single contribution from it.

This is the message going out to the party from Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Taib Mahmud, who must call state polls by June next year.

Chinese majority seats were traditionally contested by the Chinese-based SUPP, which, like the MCA and Gerakan in Peninsular Malaysia, has lost the support of the community’s urban voters for its perceived deference to the Bumiputera-based Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB).

Taib has convinced Putrajaya it could not afford to go into battle without him � file pic.
PBB president Taib will be leading the state BN into battle and is expected to sweep the non-Chinese seats together with the smaller Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) and Sarawak Progressive Democratic Party (SPDP).

Despite pressure from Kuala Lumpur to retire and put a new face in charge to win both urban and rural support, Taib, despite continued allegations of corruption, has convinced the federal government that it risked losing the entire state if he was not in place — a blow they can ill-afford with the country seen to be on the cusp of a general election.

“The thinking is that while Barisan is set to lose the urban Chinese vote, without Taib they might also lose the rural Iban vote and lose the government as well,” a Sarawak Barisan leader said.

“We are set on the lesser of the two evils, lose Chinese votes and still win the government or lose Taib and lose everything.”

“This argument has won the day because all the corruption allegations are only an issue with urban voters in Sarawak and elsewhere in Malaysia. It is not an issue in rural Sarawak where development is the main and only issue,” he added.

Another BN leader believed Taib could still deliver a needed victory for the coalition, “Here Taib is still strong and can pull the votes for one final time.”

However, BN’s ability to dominate the state assembly will be in doubt if the PKR and PAS also do as well as the DAP is expected to.

But observers say PKR in Sarawak was in disarray and heavily splintered along ethnic and religious lines, even with Baru Bian — a lawyer, anti-corruption champion and defender of native land rights — leading.

It was further alleged that “operatives” have infiltrated the state PKR and were likely to spark splinter groups, further weakening the party.

Such breakaways are a phenomenon in Sarawak politics that has traditionally been employed to weaken the opposition while burnishing the image of the ruling coalition.

PAS, on the other hand, has yet to make inroads into Sarawak politics because Islam is not a political force in the state as it was in Kelantan or Terengganu.

This is the case even in Muslim majority areas, and if PAS is to win, it will need help from DAP and, to a lesser extent, PKR.

“It might win one seat,” said a DAP leader, “if we agree to give up a marginal Chinese seat to them.”

DAP’s weakness is that although it is a nominally a multi-racial party, it prefers to contest only in Chinese majority areas where it has formed branches and established a network.

“We left organisational work in Malay/Muslim/Iban areas in the interior to PKR,” said the DAP leader. “Problem is they (PKR) are weak and fractured and have not organised anything.”

“So you can guess the results (election outcome),” he said.


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