SARAWAK VOTES APRIL 16
KUCHING, March 23 — Sarawak will go to the polls on April 16, while nomination day is fixed for April 6, the Election Commission (EC) announced here today.
The state assembly was dissolved on Monday to pave the way for Sarawak’s 10th election.
Barisan Nasional (BN) currently controls 63 of the 71-seat assembly after Engkilili assemblyman, Dr Jonical Rayong Ngipa, who contested on an opposition Sarawak National Party (SNAP) ticket during the May 20, 2006 election, joined the ruling coalition last year.
The DAP controls six seats while Parti Keadilan Rakyat and Parti Cinta Malaysia (PCM), through an independent representative, control a seat each.
The vote in the sprawling, resource-rich state is seen as a barometer of the strength of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s government, and is expected to influence the timing and outcome of the general election which could be held this year.
Sarawak, Malaysia’s largest state, is a bastion of BN. The state provides the ruling coalition with one-fifth of its 137 members in Parliament and the outcome in local assembly elections will provide a reading on where the BN now stands.
The coalition suffered record losses to the opposition in Election 2008. But analysts say record commodity prices and strong economic growth have boosted the BN’s chances at national polls that must be held by 2013.
In a recent interview with Reuters, Najib said a good showing in Sarawak would help assess the public mood and perhaps provide a pointer to bringing forward the date of the general election.
The ruling coalition is unlikely to lose control of the state but voters could show their displeasure with long-serving Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud and deprive the BN of its two-thirds majority in the state assembly.
Many of the mainly ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities abandoned the government in the 2008 elections due to increasing concerns of marginalisation, hollowing out the ruling coalition’s smaller parties. Many remain weak and unable to regain momentum. Sarawak will show whether Najib has succeeded in winning them back.
The last Sarawak election in 2006, which saw the opposition increase its tally in the 71-seat state legislature to eight from two, was followed by a two per cent drop in the benchmark stock index.
If the government loses its two-thirds majority in Sarawak, this could heighten political uncertainties for investors in the state, which include power-generation firms Aluminium Corp of China Limited, State Grid Corp of China and Tokuyama Corp.
These companies are mainly involved in aluminium smelter projects in the state and their investments contributed to making Sarawak the top choice for investors in Malaysia in 2008 and 2009, according to government data. THE MALAYSIAN INSIDER