Webinar on “The Sarawak State Election: A Storm in the Making?”

In this webinar, Professor Meredith Weiss, Mr Mohd Shazani bin and Professor James Chin unpacked the electoral outlook for the ruling GPS and opposition, the key concerns of the Sarawak electorate as they head to the polls, and how unresolved grievances may influence election outcomes.


Thursday, 9 December 2021 – The ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute organised a webinar in the lead-up to polling day of the Sarawak state election to discuss the key issues influencing the election outcome. The webinar was jointly delivered by Professor Meredith Weiss (State University of New York at Albany), Mr Mohd Shazani bin Masri (Universiti Malaysia Sarawak) and Professor James Chin (University of Tasmania).

Speakers Professor Meredith Weiss, Mr Mohd Shazani bin and Professor James Chin. Dr Lee Poh Onn, Senior Fellow at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak, moderated the panel. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Prof Weiss kicked off the webinar with a comparison of the 2016 Sarawak state election and the upcoming state election. Her presentation illustrated that the ruling Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) had performed remarkably well in semi-urban and rural constituencies in the 2016 election, due to the long-standing developmentalist discourse which promises state-funded economic projects in exchange for political support. In addition, GPS also benefitted from malapportionment as semi-urban and rural constituencies typically have fewer voters compared to the urban constituencies which leans more towards the opposition. In contrast, the developmentalist discourse places significant disadvantage on the opposition since without the control of state resources they are unable to deliver developmental projects to their constituents.

Mr Mohd Shazani subsequently provided an overview about the strategies of the GPS governing coalition. Under the coalition framework, each major ethnic group in Sarawak is represented by at least one party within the ruling coalition. Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB), the leader within GPS, represents Bumiputra interests while the Sarawak United Peoples’ Party (SUPP) champions for the interests of non-Bumiputra (especially Chinese) Sarawakians. Mr Mohd Shazani then provided an extensive list illustrating the constituencies contested by each of the GPS component parties, as well as the dominant ethnic group in each of the constituencies. He concluded his presentation with insights drawn from his Sarawak fieldwork to illustrate the ground sentiments.

Prof Chin presented on the opposition parties, which could be broadly divided into Peninsula-based and Sarawak-based. The former comprises of Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition while the most prominent Sarawak-based opposition are Parti Sarawak Bersatu (PSB) and Parti Bumi Kenyalang (PBK). Prof Chin commented that due to internal differences, the opposition is unable to put forth a united front. Consequently, vote-splitting is likely to occur and is expected to benefit GPS under the first-past-the-post voting system.

The webinar was well-attended and drew 90 participants from Singapore and abroad.