ON New Year’s Eve, the Chief Minister, Tan Sri Adenan Satem, mentioned in passing in front of thousands that the state election would be held within three months.
But just that morning, on the last day of 2015, there were news reports denying rumours the state polls would be in March.
Two senior Barisan Nasional officials were quoted as saying they believed the election would be in April. March, although just weeks earlier, might be too soon pending on-going seat negotiations, they told a local daily.
Immediately after Adenan’s speech, I spoke to a SUPP party senior. He told me he believed the actual polling date would still be in April. His comments suggested seat negotiations between the four component parties and two splinter groups were fraught with difficulties.
Since then, I have also asked PRS president Tan Sri Dr James Masing about Adenan’s speech. The election would likely be held within three months, he said.
“But it’s already getting too close to the finishing line,” Masing added, referring to the state government’s end of term on June 20.
Masing, who has stayed firmly on the side of SUPP and SPDP opposing UPP and Teras, said the election could have been earlier had there been no splinter group issues. It is worth noting that Masing specifically said the current “problems” were “created” by UPP and Teras.
If we are to take his comments at face value, then Masing is saying whatever possible poor result from a delayed state election would be the breakaway parties’ fault. Additionally, he told me not only had the polls been delayed, but it had marred an otherwise smooth transition of chief ministership from Tun Abdul Taib Mahmud to Adenan.
Masing believed a better time for election would have been sooner after Adenan was sworn in. This makes sense, as the feel-good factor would have boosted Barisan’s winnings.
Adenan’s own actions in the early months at helm indicate this to be true. Soon after becoming chief minister, there was the disastrous attempt to put SPDP back together. During the Balingian by-election – called due to Taib’s retirement – Adenan stunned heads of warring factions within SUPP by inviting both on stage to shake hands, telling them to make peace in the most public manner possible. Of course, that too failed.
Nonetheless, by the end of 2014, the State Legislative Assembly had passed a bill to pave way for the Election Commission to create 11 new seats.
The gears were in motion for the state election be in 2015. In the first half of the year, Adenan made more than his fair share of national headlines. There was his war against illegal loggers, immigrants and opening up Yayasan Sarawak scholarships and loans to Chinese independent school graduates.
By the second half of the year, Adenan had began to repeat his policies and statements. It was around this time when he started his now often repeated “give me five more years” speech.
Meanwhile, infighting within Barisan was not resolved. It has dragged on till this day. My hunch is the longer the situation remains, the higher the chances the splinter groups would be accepted.
Think about it, if Adenan is not going to accept UPP and Teras, he would have said so a long time ago.
However, there is another important reason why the polls were delayed.
Last year, PKR’s vice Sarawak chief, See Chee How, who is Batu Lintang assemblyman, took the Election Commission to court over the redelineation procedure. See won the case at the High Court, which although overturned by the Appeal Court eventually, did delay the gazetting of the 11 new seats until end of 2015.
Tellingly, PKR’s Sarawak leader Baru Bian recently said, when asked to comment on polls in March, that anything after last September had been a “bonus”.
The longer Adenan waits, the better for the opposition. Indeed, during the long lead up to the next state election, the cost of living has gone up tremendously. GST was introduced, the ringgit had fallen and 2016 looks set to be a very tough year on people’s livelihoods.
Whatever positive impacts BR1M had initially has well and truly worn off. There are also a number of national issues still lingering, which the opposition will benefit from especially in urban areas.
For politicians, there is no time to celebrate the new year, even if the next big celebration is Chinese New Year. The Year of the Monkey promises to contain fireworks.