Sarawak's 332,000 voters start going to the polls tomorrow (Saturday) to complete an election that began more than a year ago.
Sarawak's 332,000 voters start going to the polls tomorrow (Saturday) to complete an election that began more than a year ago. The polling was interrupted by the suspension of parliamentary democracy in Malaysia during the bloody May 13th riots.
The polling will be stretched over nearly a month because of the tremendous communications problem in Sarawak. River boats which still provide the best routes to many remote areas and helicopters of the Royal Malaysian Air Force will be relied on heavily to transport election officers between June 6th and July 4th when polling officially ends.
In Kuching, the capital of Sarawak, there are few visible signs that an election is about to start. Under emergency laws, there will be no canvassing of votes, no fun fairs, stage shows or regattas. The only means allowed candidates to get their message to the voters is by street posters. Candidates are also allowed to employ people to be present at polling stations and counting centres.
With campaigning barred, it's unlikely the election will reach fever pitch as it did last year. But, never-the-less, the outcome in Sarawak will be crucial and will decide if the ruling Alliance party of Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman will be able to hold power for another five years.
In all, 48 State and 24 parliamentary seats are at stake in Sarawak. Some of the parties making up the Alliance itself are fielding their own candidates in opposition to the party nominations.
The main opposition parties-the Sarawak National Party (SNAP) and the Sarawak United People's Party (SUPP)-are reported to be talking confidently of a comeback in this election. SNAP is pre-dominantly an Iban party and is led by the former Chief Minister, Dato Stephen Kalong Ningkan. The Sarawak United People's Party is banking on good support from urban areas though may have a tough battle with the Sarawak Chinese Association-an Alliance member.
Whatever the outcome, the decision to hold elections in the East Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah is being hailed as the first step to a return to parliamentary democracy in Malaysia.