On May 20th, 2006 Malaysia held the ninth state elections in the state of Sarawak. While the BN captured 87% of the seats (61 out of 72 state legislature seats) and continues to dominate the state legislature, the opposition managed to send shock waves by winning an unexpected 8 seats and 47.2% of the popular vote. The remaining seat was won by an independent. For the first time since the 1987 election, the opposition emerged as an important player in this state, long considered a stronghold for the incumbent Barisan Nasional (BN). This report explains why the opposition was more successful at the polls, and draws attention to ongoing problems in the electoral process in Sarawak and limits on democratic space. Many of these problems are endemic in Malaysia as a whole. Following a long pattern of unfair elections, the Sarawak contest was conducted with media bias, vote buying, electoral manipulation and unfair use of state resources and was carried out in a climate of insecurity and ethnic-based mobilization that limits choices at the polls. Despite the uneven terrain, the opposition managed to win victories, although primarily in Chinese majority constituencies. These developments point to the potential for future electoral gains for the opposition.

– Extracted from Bridget Welsh, “Malaysia’s Sarawak state elections 2006 – Understanding a break in the BN armour“, National Democratic Institute. 1 September 2006.