In this webinar, Dr Arnold Puyok and Professor Wong Chin Huat discussed the Sarawak election outcome by dissecting the voting patterns of each ethnic group as well as the core issues which influenced voting behaviour.
MALAYSIA STUDIES PROGRAMME WEBINAR
22 December 2021, Wednesday – ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute organised a webinar on 22 December, shortly after the conclusion of the Sarawak state election with polls held on 18th December 2022.
Both speakers, Dr Arnold Puyok and Professor Wong Chin Huat, provided a nuanced analysis of the election outcome by dissecting the voting patterns of each ethnic group as well as the core issues which influenced voting behaviour. Dr Puyok is the Deputy Dean at the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak, while Prof Wong is Professor at the Jeffrey Cheah Institute on Southeast Asia.
Dr Puyok presented his findings based on the fieldwork conducted in the lead-up to the state election. He argued that the landslide victory for GPS could be attributed to the “Survival, Security, Sarawak” narrative which was popular among Sarawakians. During the election campaign, GPS championed for Sarawak nationalism, in addition to the promise of developmentalism and economic assistance, should it be re-elected. In addition, it also boasted of the relatively fast vaccine rollout in Sarawak compared to other Malaysian states.
The COVID-19 social restrictions also disadvantaged the opposition as they were unable to conduct large-scale outreach campaigns to introduce their candidates to voters. As the opposition fielded a significant number of new candidates, the electorate became inclined to support GPS’ candidates who were largely familiar faces.
Dr Puyok commented that in the next general election, all parties would attempt to woo young voters with the implementation of the UNDI 18 bill. As the Peninsula-based PH struggles to find support in Sarawak, Dr Puyok argued that the coalition needs to renew their strategy and undergo leadership renewal to remain relevant in the Sarawak political arena.
Prof Wong started the presentation with an overview of the ruling Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) and the opposition’s electoral performance since the 2001 Sarawak state election. He argued that negative sentiments towards then Sarawak Chief Minister Taib Mahmud in the 2006 state election resulted in a decline in vote share for the Sarawak Barisan Nasional (predecessor of GPS). Consequently, the opposition began to make inroads into Sarawak and gained greater traction in the subsequent 2011 state election.
Since the retirement of Taib Mahmud in 2014, the opposition has struggled to establish a credible narrative and clinched fewer seats in each of the subsequent state elections (2016 and 2021). Prof Wong argued that the opposition Pakatan Harapan (PH) has lost much popularity as its vote share plummeted while merely clinching 2 seats. PH lost the federal government incumbency advantage to Perikatan Nasional since February 2020, of which GPS is in a loose alliance with. Without controlling either the federal or (Sarawak) state government apparatus, PH lacks the influence to determine the allocation of government resources which increases the appeal of the incumbent GPS among the Sarawak electorate.
Conversely, Parti Sarawak Bersatu (PSB) has emerged as the strongest Sarawak opposition and won 4 seats in the 82 seats state assembly. He commented that the rise of PSB may be attributed to its background as a Sarawak-based opposition, compared to PH which is perceived by Sarawakians as Peninsula-based. Prof Wong concluded his presentation that GPS is likely to perform well when the next parliamentary election is held, while the opposition (PSB and PH) faces significant challenges.
In the question-and-answer session, participants inquired on the surprising outcome for the newly emerged Parti Bumi Kenyalang (PBK), the competition between PH and other Sarawak-based opposition parties, the saliency of Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63), among others. The webinar attracted 70 participants from Singapore and abroad.
Dr Lee Poh Onn, Senior Fellow at the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute, moderated the webinar.