With 89% Turnout, GPS Seen Leading In Early Polls

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Kuching: A total of 89 per cent, or 18,141 individuals, fulfilled their responsibilities as early voters on Tuesday (14 Dec) in the 12th Sarawak state election (PRN Sarawak).

According to Bernama, the Election Commission (EC) secretary, Ikmalrudin Ishak, in a statement, said the number of voters comprised military, police personnel and their spouses.

Early voting kicked in as early as 7.30 am and ended at 5 pm in 85 early polling centres, involving 111 polling streams.

As early voting ensued, the ruling Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS), led by Chief Minister Abang Johari Tun Openg remains the frontrunner and the spotlight now falls on how many of the 82 seats it can take this time.

In 2016, the state government extended its rule by capturing 72 seats. On the ground yet again, the horde of opposition parties is seen to be lagging behind the formidable GPS election machinery.

Save for four straight fights, the rest of the contests are multi-cornered tussles as a disunited opposition trip over each other to deny GPS the numbers to form the State government.

Despite this, the main fight remains according to early forecasts, a GPS contest against Democratic Action Party (DAP) and debutante, Parti Sarawak Bersatu (PSB).

It is a “foregone conclusion” that GPS will continue to rule, Bernama quoted Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow at Singapore Institute of International Affairs as saying.

“Realistically, the main players are still GPS, DAP and PSB. All the others including Parti Bumi Kenyalang and even Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), I don’t know if they can win any seats at all.

“The significant player to watch is PSB which is contesting for the first time but they appear to have plenty of resources.

“Let’s see how it would play out and if PSB can emerge as a significant political player in Sarawak after the election.” Oh said.

With election night looming around the corner, the likes of Parti PKR which retained three seats in 2016 and the lesser-known opposition including Parti Bumi Kenyalang which fielded the second biggest number of 73 seats, are unlikely to be spoilers.

Party infighting and a lack of substantive issues have rendered the campaign a quiet affair since the 6 Dec nominations.

“There is a lot of infighting which cuts across the political divide, such as parachute candidates who are not accepted by the local parties on the ground and they will not get assistance. There is also a lack of substantive issues,” said Oh, adding that calls for more autonomy were something remote to the average folks.

“The opposition doesn’t seem to have a grip on what are the relevant issues at play like the difficulty of livelihood under the pandemic, I don’t see this being played strongly,” he said.

GPS is contesting all the seats while DAP has 26 candidates and PSB is in the race for 70.

PKR has downsized its fight from 40 seats last time to 28. It had defended Ba’kelalan, Batu Lintang and Krian in 2016 but all three winners, Baru Bian, See Chee How and Ali Biju are no longer with the party.

The party will likely be routed, just as its fate in the recent Melaka state election.

Dr Lee Kuok Tiung of Universiti Malaysia Sabah also sees PKR as a non-contender without Baru who used to be the party’s chief until the “Sheraton Move” which dislodged the federal Pakatan Harapan as government.

Baru defends Ba’kelalan for PSB which he serves as a presidential council member. The party is led by seasoned politician and former state government member, Wong Soon Koh.

“Baru Bian is synonymous with PKR here. PSB can look at strengthening their fight for the Chinese seats, the rest will depend on Baru Bian because he has many hardcore followers,” he said.

This is the first time GPS has entered the state polls as a state alliance made up of Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB), Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS), Sarawak United Peoples’ Party (SUPP) and Progressive Democratic Party (PDP).

Dr Jeniri Amir, a senior fellow of the Malaysian Council of Professors, is optimistic that PBB would again maintain its record in the Bumiputera areas, after a clean sweep of 40 constituencies in 2016 and increasing its contests to 46 seats this time.

“GPS will get more than two-thirds again, my guess is between 65 to 70,” he said.

In the last polls, the ruling government also banked on the victories of 11 direct candidates who were not members of the four component parties.

Five of the direct candidates including Wong have since moved on to establish PSB as a rebranded political entity from Wong’s previous United People’s Party.

The EC has set the Sarawak polls to be held this Saturday. – New Malaysia Herald

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