15 - Sarawak: An Electoral Tremor with Far-Reaching Consequences?
Published online by Cambridge University Press: 17 April 2020
The general election of 9 May 2018 was a watershed in Malaysian history. The Star newspaper described the outcome as a night when the “earth moved as one Barisan parliamentary seat after another tumbled …” (Star Online, 10 May 2018). Driven by rising dissatisfaction with the Barisan Nasional (BN) rule, a deteriorating economy, anger with corruption and the 1MDB scandal, and unhappiness with the goods and services tax (GST), different segments of Malaysians voted across racial lines “sweeping away what many people in the country have for long regarded as an invincible political behemoth” (Lim, Thayaparan, and Netto 2018, p. 3).
The shockwaves were not confined to states in Peninsular Malaysia, but also spilled over to East Malaysia. In Sarawak, the ruling coalition Sarawak Barisan Nasional (Sarawak BN) lost an unprecedented twelve out of thirty-one parliamentary constituencies. This was the first time that opposition parties secured more than onethird of the state's parliamentary seats, leading Pakatan Harapan (PH) to conclude that a Sarawak tsunami had occurred (Borneo Post Online, 10 May 2018).
Just as most observers were taken aback by Pakatan Harapan's stellar performance at the national level, the outcomes of the 2018 General Elections in Sarawak were unexpected. The Sarawak state election, held in 2016, had indicated strong backing for Sarawak BN, who won that election resoundingly. In subsequent months, the state government also made progress on a number of hot-button local issues, including negotiations of the Malaysia Agreement to restore Sarawak's rights, recognition of English as a state language, and recognition of the Unified Examination Certificate (UEC) (Star Online, 1 February 2018). Consequently, the sitting Chief Minister, Abang Johari Tun Openg, expected Sarawak BN to retain at least twenty-five constituencies, and possibly acquire an additional parliamentary seat or two.
The eventual political realignment after the 14th General Elections (GE-14) was momentous, as the component parties of Sarawak BN departed from the national BN coalition. At present, this grouping—named Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS)—is still in power at the state level. Abang Johari has stated that GPS “will cooperate and collaborate with the federal government for national interest, and state rights and interests based on the Federal Constitution and the Federation of Malaysia” (Lee 2018b). Where interests do not coincide, GPS can choose to go their own way and protect Sarawak's interests.
- The Defeat of Barisan NasionalMissed Signs or Late Surge?, pp. 364 - 401Publisher: ISEAS–Yusof Ishak InstitutePrint publication year: 2019