Friday, March 12, 2010

Barisan talks up chances ahead of Sarawak polls

Sarawak’s Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri George Chan (picture) is confident of a near clean-sweep for the state’s Barisan Nasional (BN) amid growing talk of impending state elections, as the ruling coalition seeks a major boost ahead of the next general elections.

He told The Malaysian Insider earlier this week that national Pakatan Rakyat (PR) leaders like Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and the DAP’s Lim Kit Siang have little traction in the state.

“Even at Anwar’s height Pakatan lost Batang Ai to BN in big numbers,” he said in reference to the by-election last year won easily by BN.

State elections must be called by May 2011, but speculation is rife that it will be held this year in what could be a barometer of how voters in the state will swing in national elections.

With voter support in peninsular Malaysia still appearing to be evenly split between BN and Pakatan Rakyat (PR), Sarawak, and Sabah have become strategic states in the fight for federal power.

But resource-rich Sarawak with its growing wealth — reflected in the ongoing economic boom seen in major cities like Kuching, Sibu, Bintulu and Miri —appears to be a safe bet for the state BN despite

Clean tree-lined streets, a proliferation of new shopping centres and brand-new houses in the state’s major cities are signs of an explosion in wealth that BN is banking on to win back urban voters it lost in the last state polls in 2006.

“There will still be a tough fight in the towns and city centres but I am confident we will do better. A clean sweep is not impossible,” said Chan.

Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud, the 74-year-old strongman who has been at the helm since 1981, has consistently led the state BN coalition to thumping victories.

Even at its worst performance, which was in the last elections, BN won a whopping 62 out of the 71 seats contested.

Most of the seats lost belonged to Chan’s SUPP, but he is now upbeat about regaining lost ground.

Chan also pointed out that Sarawak’s Chinese, who account for about 30 per cent of the state’s population, also do not share the level of frustration and disenchantment faced by the community in peninsular Malaysia.

He pointed out that Sarawak’s Chinese feel more integrated.

“The Chinese here are part and parcel of government. Many of them are in the civil service and hold senior positions.

“In Sarawak no one gets excited about religious intolerance because Muslims and non-Muslims are united. Sarawak offers many lessons for race relations,” he said.

Anwar and Lim are just about the only recognisable national political figures for Sarawakians.

But Chan is particularly dismissive of Anwar’s attraction in Sarawak.

“I do not think Anwar has much influence here. His credibility is in question in a lot of areas.

“PKR is still seen as a peninsular party. Their candidates may be local but they are still seen as outsiders, as master is in KL,” said Chan in reference to the strong parochial feeling in the state which translates into an often overriding resentment against federal intervention or interference.

The DAP, however, has had a long history in the state, and its local leadership has grown in influence to compete with SUPP for Chinese votes.

In the 2006 state elections, DAP made what was considered strong gains when the party won six seats to become the strongest opposition party.

The DAP’s Lim told The Malaysian Insider that he expects his party to at least hold its ground.

How well PR can perform will depend on whether the two main parties in the state — PKR and DAP — can work well together.

“Our target must be 24 or 36 seats. If we get 24 we deny BN its two-thirds majority. If we get 36 means we would have toppled the state government,” he said.

courtesy of Malaysian Insider

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