Today Online (4 May 2016)
KUALA LUMPUR — Ms Nurul Izzah Anwar, an opposition Member of the Malaysian Parliament, flew to the island of Borneo earlier this week to participate in a local election campaign. She did not stay long.
Immigration officials in Sarawak, a semi-autonomous state with its own border controls, refused to let her enter on Monday (May 2) . Ms Nurul Izzah took the next plane home.
“I am participating in legitimate political activity,” she said on Tuesday. “But I found myself immediately deported as soon as I arrived.”
The Sarawak vote on Saturday is the first test of Prime Minister Najib Razak’s popularity — and of his willingness to compete in fair elections — since disclosures that almost US$700 million (S$950 million) had been mysteriously deposited in his personal bank accounts.
Sarawak is set apart from other states in Peninsula Malaysia by its semi-autonomous status. It will hold elections for state and federal offices two years before the rest of the nation.
For Malaysian opposition leaders, restrictions on campaigning there are part of the frustration of going up against Mr Najib, who heads Malaysia’s formidable governing coalition.
Ms Nurul Izzah is one of about two dozen opposition leaders and activists who have been refused entry into Sarawak this year in keeping with a ban on “unsavoury elements” imposed by state Chief Minister Adenan Satem. Mr Najib and Mr Adenan are allies and appeared there together last week to kick off the campaign.
Mr Najib had been campaigning in Sarawak during the past week in the hope that his candidates will win by a large margin. On Wednesday, he chaired a Cabinet meeting in Sarawak’s capital. After the meeting, Mr Najib and his deputy, Mr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, announced that the federal government had committed RM3.5 billion (S$1.2 billion) for various projects in the state.
The Prime Minister noted that it was not out of the ordinary to hold Cabinet meetings outside of Putrajaya. He also told Sarawakians to be mindful of the opposition rhetoric during the hustings.
“The people must think and reason, so that they can differentiate between what can be accepted and can be implemented from the political rhetorics of the opposition,” he said.
Since the 1990s, Sarawak has banned political leaders and activists it deems undesirable from entering, but the deportations have increased considerably this year, according to a list compiled by the online news site Malaysiakini.
Asked about the ban last month, Mr Adenan said: “I have to protect the interests of Sarawak from unsavoury elements, political or otherwise. That is my job.”
He added that the deportees could return as tourists after the polls. “They are at liberty to come to Sarawak any time after the election,” he said, with a laugh.
“Mr Najib has been the subject of investigations spanning five countries,” said Ms Nurul Izzah. “If anyone were to be barred, it should actually be him.” Ms Nurul Izzah is the daughter of former opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who is serving a five-year sentence for sodomy.
In the last national election, in 2013, opposition parties won a majority of the popular vote but ended up with far fewer seats in Parliament. That is because the district lines favour rural voters, who generally support Mr Najib’s coalition.
In beginning the campaign last week, Mr Najib called the Sarawak election a “precursor” to the next General Election, scheduled for 2018. A victory this week, he said, according to The Malay Mail Online, “will certainly form a very strong momentum for us moving forward”