Election fever getting hot in Sarawak

PHOTO: Reuters

KUCHING - The election fever in Sarawak went up several notches after the unprecedented move by Tan Sri Adenan Satem that April 30 was a possible polling date.

Although the chief minister, who dropped the bombshell on Friday night, backtracked a bit yesterday by saying that he was not dictating the date to the Election Commission, the announcement has led to political parties locking horns in the battle to win the Land of the Hornbills.

Incidentally, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and his deputy Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi were also in town yesterday for separate events.

Dr Ahmad Zahid, who was in Sibu, told reporters that he would make at least two trips a month to Sarawak but for February, "I will come three times".

Although Adenan had told his inner circle that he was planning for a late April election, his announcement still came as a stunner.

The statement, made during a pre-election seminar of PBB's Satok branch, caught everyone off guard.

Even the president of the second largest Barisan party in Sarawak, PRS' Tan Sri James Masing, was shocked.

"The CM told us of this possibility in April. However, the fact that he stated the dates instead of the EC, was a surprise," Masing told The Star.

Describing Adenan's move as "unprecedented", he said: "But as he has met the EC, so I assume his announcement is all in order.

"As the head of a Barisan party, my duty is to ensure the party is ready to have the election. And we are ready."

Similarly, SUPP president Datuk Dr Sim Kui Hian said the party, which is involved in seat squabbles with its breakaway party UPP, was also prepared.

"We are ready for the state polls, whenever the CM seeks dissolution of the legislative assembly and whenever the EC fixes the date," said Dr Sim.

However, the Rise of Sarawak Efforts (Rose) - the state's version of a Bersih-like group - denounced Adenan's announcement.

"After the governor consents to the dissolution of the state assembly, it is for the EC to decide on the nomination and polling dates," said its leader Ann Teo, a lawyer.

She said Adenan had jumped the gun, citing the state Constitution to back her claim.

Sarawak PKR vice-president See Chee How, who is Batu Lintang assemblyman, claimed Adenan's move was "procedurally wrong" and could be seen as "usurping" the EC's constitutional right.

A date in April would also be a concern for Sarawak DAP, whose leader Chong Chieng Jen could be disqualified to stand for re-election if he is found guilty by the courts of participating in the Bersih 4 Kuching rally last August.

The trial of the Kota Sentosa assemblyman could be wrapped up by March.

For Sarawakians staying outside the state, the early indication of the date will help them plan their return to vote.

"It's an obligation," said business development executive Royce Tan who works in Kuala Lumpur.

"Previously, I've flown back just to vote. It's my right.

"It would even be better if we are allowed postal voting," he said.

"A former boss wasn't very happy with me taking time off to vote but my current boss is very supportive.

"I don't mind using my annual leave," he said, adding that the announcement of April 30 as the date could save him money on air fare.