Malaysia's Sarawak State to Hold Elections in Test for Najib

  • Resource-rich state contributes to a 10th of national output
  • Polls can determine if chief minister is ally to government

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Photographer: Manan Vatsyayana/AFP via Getty Images

Malaysia’s Sarawak state will dissolve its assembly on April 11, paving the way for elections that are seen as a test of support for Prime Minister Najib Razak.

The Election Commission will fix the nomination and polling days after the assembly is dissolved, the New Straits Times newspaper said on Twitter, citing Chief Minister Adenan Satem. An election must be held within 60 days of the dissolution.

Najib is counting on Adenan’s popularity to retain support for the Barisan Nasional coalition in the Sarawak poll. The premier is embroiled in a funding scandal that has led opposition politicians to call for his resignation, and which risks eroding support for the coalition that has been in power federally since independence in 1957. That alliance won re-election in 2013 with its narrowest margin yet, and lost the popular vote for the first time. 

The premier has denied any wrongdoing amid questions over $681 million that appeared in his accounts before the 2013 election, money the government said was a political donation from the Saudi royal family.

"Najib needs a strong win in Sarawak to build momentum for the next general election," said James Chin, director of the Asia Institute at the University of Tasmania. "Adenan can take full credit for Sarawak but of course Najib will put in a lot of appearances because this is a sure” win for Barisan Nasional.

Oil Fields, Rainforests

Sarawak, with its oil fields, hydroelectric dams and rainforests, was Malaysia’s third biggest contributor by state or federal territory to gross domestic product in 2014, accounting for about a 10th of output. The result of the state polls is key in part because the assembly’s composition determines if the chief minister is an ally to Najib.

A study by Universiti Malaysia Sarawak showed Adenan’s popularity rose to about 84 percent in January from 74 percent in June, state news service Bernama reported this month, citing Deputy Prime Minister Zahid Hamidi.

Barisan Nasional lost eight seats in the last Sarawak state poll in 2011. The state has 31 federal seats of which Barisan Nasional holds 25.

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