KUCHING: Sarawak goes to the ballot today after 12 days of mostly muted campaigning against the backdrop of Covid-19 restrictions.

While Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) looks set to retain power for another five years, the question is whether it can match its 2016 polls results (as then-Sarawak Barisan Nasional) of wresting 72 of the 82 seats in the state assembly.

What’s also at stake is the need for checks and balances, as well as a good turnout to ensure that the people make their voices heard.

Electoral rights advocate Soon Wei Xen noted that the Opposition lacked a strong foothold in Sarawak whereas GPS held the trump card in terms of political machinery, funding and grassroots support.

“However, whichever side of the aisle one is on, it is important to have checks and balances.

“For the Opposition, the question to be asked is how many seats can they win and how will they be a strong opposition?

“For GPS, how many seats can it retain and how will it deliver on the promises it has made during the campaign?” the Undi Sarawak coordinator said.

Soon also said it was important for the people to come out and vote.

“The outcome of the state election will determine the way forward for Sarawak and its people. It’ll be selfish not to vote and yet complain about what is going on.

“If we want our voices to be heard, the ballot box is the place for it,” he added.

Rise of Social Efforts president Ann Teo said a low turnout would offer good reasons for the civil society organisation to continue the conversation on much-needed electoral reforms and voter education.

She said fence-sitters were finding it harder to make a choice this time due to the presence of more opposition parties including Parti Sarawak Bersatu (PSB) and Parti Bumi Kenyalang (PBK).

“Voters will have to make a choice according to their persuasions or political inclinations.

“But this is a good time to remind ourselves that the performance of the parties and elected representatives after this election should be scrutinised closely by their constituents,” she said.

Long-time political observer Edgar Ong said he did not see how GPS could lose the election but hoped at the same time to see opposition gains.

“DAP was strong in the past because it had rousing ceramah (political talks) to generate a lot of ground interest and support.

“That hasn’t happened this time,” he said, referring to the standard operating procedure that banned physical campaigning in urban seats with good Internet connectivity.

Ong also said the DAP had lost some popularity after its local leaders failed to fulfil their promises when Pakatan Harapan was in power, opening the door for the Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP) to take some seats back.

“SUPP could gain three to six seats. This is important for the Chinese community in general, as it’s vital that the Chinese be seen to be part of the government,” he said.

SUPP is a component party of GPS, along with Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB), Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) and Progressive Democratic Party (PDP).

Sarawak Dayak Iban Association Rajang branch chairman Bill Jugah said the state legislative assembly should be made up of a good number of opposition members.

“This is because if the majority of assemblymen are from the government, they would have absolute power. This could result in abuse of power and corruption.

“Government policies could also be lopsided,” he said.

Bill, who is an election observer for the Dudong, Pakan, Meluan, Tamin and Kakus seats, said he also wanted to see strong racial harmony and unity after the election, adding that no race should be neglected.

As such, he said he hoped voters would send candidates from Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak (PBDS) Baru to the state assembly.

“PBDS Baru’s main struggle is to defend Dayak rights. The voice of the Dayaks should be heard in the state assembly through them,” he said.

For Kenyah Uma Baha Women’s Association Sibu chairman Umie Liau, however, this election is an opportunity for the Opposition to form the new government.

“Voters should optimise the presence of younger political leaders to bring about transformation. Otherwise, the same old regime will continue to strengthen its stronghold and the majority of Sarawakians will continue to suffer,” she said.