[QODLink]
Asia-Pacific
Malaysian state holds crucial elections
Polling stations open in Sarawak in vote seen as testing ground for the country's early general elections.
Last Modified: 16 Apr 2011 08:09
Taib Mahmud, who has ruled Sarawak for 30 years, is in the centre of a series of corruption scandals [Reuters]

Voting is under way in a key Malaysian state poll widely seen as a test for early general election which is not due until 2013.

Hundreds of thousands of voters cast ballots on Saturday in a vote that will test the ruling coalition's ability to block the opposition's hope of wrestling national political power.

Najib Abdul Razak, the Malaysian prime minister, and other senior government politicians have spent the past week campaigning in coastal towns and villages deep in Borneo's rainforest.

The ruling Barisan Nasional (National Front) party is trying to retain control of a 71-seat legislature in the eastern Malaysian state.

The Barisan Nasional previously held 63 seats and is widely expected to win this election.

Polls will close at 5pm local time (09:00 GMT) with final results expected by 11pm (15:00 GMT).

A strong win for the ruling coalition in the sprawling, resource-rich state of Sarawak on Borneo island could prompt Najib to call a national election this year.

The opposition has been hampered by a lack of resources to reach indigenous tribal communities in remote districts accessible only by boat or helicopter.

"This election is different and for the National Front, tougher. It is certainly the most exciting state election and some would say the most unpredictable," the government-controlled New Straits Times newspaper said in an editorial on Saturday.

"While the National Front is bullish, albeit with some losses, the opposition also is looking at better results."

Election promises

Najib has pledged huge sums of money in development aid to build new roads and improve facilities in Sarawak, which is rich in timber but comprises many poor communities with little access to electricity and modern communications.

"Don't vote based on sentiments," Najib said late on Friday. "The question that needs to be thought over by Sarawak voters is ... a better future, because Sarawak is a very big state that needs huge investments, particularly in modern infrastructure."

"We want to deny [the government] its monopoly of Sarawak"

Anwar Ibrahim, parliamentary opposition leader, Malaysia

The three-party opposition alliance led by Anwar Ibrahim hopes to seize one-third of Sarawak's legislature seats, mainly in urban constituencies, amid public dissatisfaction over alleged corruption and the slow rate of development in the state.

In the state capital of Kuching, the opposition held its final rallies on Friday night which drew more than 10,000 supporters. The party's election candidates addressed the mainly ethnic Chinese crowd in Mandarin, and were greeted with shouts of "Ubah!" (change).

The opposition is banking on voter frustration over the 30-year rule of Taib Mahmud, the state's chief minister whom critics say has amassed huge riches through shady timber deals, including real prime estate abroad.

"We want to deny [the government] its monopoly of Sarawak," Anwar said.

Taib has denied any wrongdoing, but promised recently to step down within a few years.

The Sarawak state election is Malaysia's biggest since 2008 national polls, when the opposition alliance won more than one-third of the seats in parliament amid complaints of racial discrimination and economic mismanagement by the government.

Source:
Agencies
Topics in this article
People
Country
Organisation
Featured on Al Jazeera
An innovative rehabilitation programme offers Danish fighters in Syria an escape route and help without prosecution.
Street tension between radical Muslims and Holland's hard right rises, as Islamic State anxiety grows.
Take an immersive look at the challenges facing the war-torn country as US troops begin their withdrawal.
Ministers and MPs caught on camera sleeping through important speeches have sparked criticism that they are not working.
Featured
More than 400 gaming dens operate on native lands, but critics say social ills and inequality stack the deck.
The Palestinian president is expected to address the UN with a new proposal for the creation of a Palestinian state.
Nearly 1,200 aboriginal females have been killed or disappeared over 30 years with little justice served, critics say.
Ethnic violence has wracked China's restive Xinjiang region, leading to a tight government clampdown.
Malay artists revitalise the art of puppeteering by fusing tradition with modern characters such as Darth Vader.