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Malaysian PM Najib gears up for Sarawak elections

Malaysian Prime Minister and Barisan Nasional (BN) chairman Datuk Seri Najib Razak has continued to make numerous trips to Sarawak leading up to the elections scheduled to be held on 7 May. Sarawak, Malaysia’s biggest state, bears 31 seats in the country’s federal parliament, the most seats among all Malaysian states.

In ruling party BN’s preparation for the upcoming polls, it has committed itself to the development of Sarawak by promising billions of dollars to fund various projects in the state. Najib and Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi promised a total of RM 3.5 billion for such projects.

This promise was coupled with Najib’s numerous visits to Sarawak. He has visited the state over fifty times since his election in 2009, including three trips made in the past fortnight.

Additionally, Najib also scheduled a 4 May cabinet meeting to be held in the capital of Sarawak, Kuching. Cabinet meetings are usually held near Kuala Lumpur.

Despite claims from the opposition that such a move was political in nature, Najib denied the claims, saying that the holding of a cabinet meeting at a different location was “not something unusual.”

Instead, Najib noted how Penang’s chief minister and Democratic Action Party (DAP) secretary-general Lim Guan Eng was “obviously here to campaign in Sarawak despite having no jurisdiction here.”

Currently, the BN holds 25 out of the 31 seats in Sarawak. The state, considered essential for the BN to win national elections, goes to the polls on a different date from national elections.

BN’s presence as Malaysia’s ruling party began to be threatened in 2013, when former DPM Anwar Ibrahim led the Pakatan Rakyat, an opposition coalition consisting of the DAP, the People's Justice Party and the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party.

If not for the two states Sabah and Sarawak, where the BN won about a third of their seats, the ruling party would likely have lost power in 2013.

More support for the BN in Sarawak would mean a likely boost for Najib, especially with the recent issues with the 1Malaysia Development Berha (1MDB) state fund owned by Malaysia's Finance Ministry. On 4 May, it was announced that Najib was stripped of veto power over 1MDB decisions.

To allow foreign investors to regain confidence in projects throughout Sarawak, a strong mandate for BN will be needed.