Sarawak assembly should be the last big one before national snap polls later in the year, reports Asia Sentinel

Sarawak Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud Friday is expected to call for the dissolution of the East Malaysian state’s assembly, according to local media.

The polls, which must be held in prior to the expiry of the state assembly’s term in July, have long been regarded as a precursor to national elections, which must be held before the end of 2013 but are expected sooner to give Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak another five-year term in office. Much depends on the prevailing atmosphere once the Sarawak elections are held, along with a continuing series of by-elections brought on by heart attacks, scandals, defections and other political problems.

By rights the 74-year-old Taib, who has ruled Sarawak for 30 years, should face the strongest challenge of his career, if not the threat of criminal investigation, although the political wisdom is that his Parti Pesaka Bumiputra Bersatu Sarawak can be expected to pull out a victory over the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party, with or without him.

Over several months last summer, a Sarawak-based NGO called the Sarawak Report issued a series of exhaustively detailed reports documenting through officials records in the United States. Canada and the United Kingdom Taib’s vast personal holdings, including a Seattle, Washington home for which he appeared to have paid US$1 to a company to which he granted lucrative timber concessions. The stories, reprinted by Asia Sentinel, can be found here, here, here, and here.

News reports over the past several months have quoted sources within the Barisan Nasional as hoping Taib would step down because of the scandals attached to his name and that of his family. The Sarawak Ngo’s reports included repeated requests to Malaysian authorities to investigate what appeared to be 30 years of looting the state for its timber and other natural resources. However, nobody ever answered the NGO’s requests for a probe of Taib’s immense overseas assets. It is clear that the national government values the political security it gets out of Taib’s Sarawak political apparatus over any questions of integrity.

Although some observers expect early national elections as well, sources within the United Malays National Organisation, the country’s biggest ethnically-based political party, told Asia Sentinel that Najib would prefer to hold off national elections until later in the year to allow the economic stimulus from a panoply of economic projects to kick in, including the beginning of construction of highways, a mass rapid transit system for Kuala Lumpur, a 100-storey office building and other projects.

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