Sarawak and Sabah remain BN stronghold

KUALA LUMPUR - If the opposition Pakatan Rakyat (PR) wants to win the next general election, it has to first win over voters in Sabah and Sarawak. But victory in these two states remains an elusive goal.

The two Borneo states are not called "fixed deposit states" of the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition for nothing. For decades, they have helped seal victory for the coalition, and last May, gave BN 47 of the its total 133 seats won.

In return, Prime Minister Najib Razak increased the number of ministers from Borneo in his Cabinet. They include Law Minister Nancy Shukri and Works Minister Fadillah Yusof.

In recent years, the PR has made some inroads in urban areas of Sabah and Sarawak but these are mainly Chinese-majority areas.

To try reaching rural voters, the Democratic Action Party, one of the PR's component parties, started an outreach campaign called "Sarawak Dreams" last September. Party workers and volunteers picked selected villages to build simple infrastructure such as wells. But it is a slow process.

Leading BN component party Umno may have alienated Christians in Sabah and Sarawak with its battles to keep the term "Allah" exclusive to Muslims - and more than half of Malaysia's Christian population live in these two states - but the ideological fissures in the opposition, particularly between DAP and PAS, means the PR is unable to capitalise on this issue.

Professor James Chin, a political analyst from Monash University Malaysia, said the PR still lacks the party machinery and financial resources to be a serious threat to BN.

"At best, the PR can only deny the BN the two-thirds majority in the state assemblies," he told The Sunday Times.

This article was published on May 4 in The Straits Times.

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