“Adenan Strengthens Barisan Nasional’s (BN) Rule in Sarawak”, by Lee Hock Guan

Commentary 2016/13, 9 May 2016

With his inclusive policies, aided by a well-oiled party machinery, money politics and gerrymandering, Sarawak’s Chief Minister Adenan Satem helped the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition win 72 of 82 at the 11th Sarawak state elections held on 7 May. It also benefited the BN that the opposition not only failed to unite in opposing BN, but, instead, repeatedly condemned one another for failing to compromise on seat allocations. Tellingly, the BN campaign focused largely on Sarawakian issues and indeed the corruption scandal swirling around Prime Minister Najib Razak was practically a non-factor.

Adenan seemed to have regain the support of the urban Chinese voters, lost in the 2011 elections to the opposition, especially the Democratic Action Party (DAP). A marginal swing in the Chinese votes for BN was sufficient for its component member, the Sarawak United Peoples’ Party (SUPP) to win seven of the 13 seats it contested. It remains a hard truth that a large majority of Sarawakians, especially the bumiputra minorities, continue to regard the opposition as interlopers from the peninsula, similar in status to UMNO, the dominant party in BN nationally.

While the BN electoral victory in Sarawak does not reflect a change in the BN’s falling popularity on the peninsula, it does at least indicate that if the opposition fails to resolve their differences and galvanise their support they will suffer further setbacks at the ballot box in the general elections that are to be held within two years.
Dr Lee Hock Guan is Co-coordinator, Malaysia Studies Programme, ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.

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