Chief Minister announces time frame during a New Year's Eve countdown in Kuching
Sarawak's Chief Minister Adenan Satem has begun the new year by announcing that a state election is likely in the next three months.
"I have kept my word," he told thousands at a New Year's Eve countdown in the state capital of Kuching. "In the polls three months from now, you will keep your word to me. You will fulfil your promise to give me five more years," the online news portal Malaysiakini reported him as saying.
It was the first time Tan Sri Adenan, who became the state's leader in February 2014, revealed a time frame for the election.
Since taking over, he has enacted several popular policies, including making English an official language of the state administration, recognising the Chinese schools' Unified Examination Certification, and making Sarawak a toll-free state.
Analysts predict that Mr Adenan's approach to such state issues will likely win the support of voters for him and his party - Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu - and other Umno-friendly parties in the state.
"Adenan will do very well in Sarawak," think-tank Ideas chief Wan Saiful Wan Jan told The Straits Times, adding that Barisan Nasional (BN) will most likely win control of the state.
A BN win in Sarawak would provide a boost for Prime Minister Najib Razak, who would most likely use it to argue that the people still have confidence in the BN despite the furore over his handling of state investor 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) and an uproar over the RM2.6 billion (S$858 million) found in his personal accounts.
It remains to be seen, however, whether a big win for BN in Sarawak will enable the federal government to hold on to power in the next national election, which must be called by mid-2018.
"Adenan has made statements to distance himself from Datuk Seri Najib, even going so far as to say the party may re-evaluate its loyalty depending on whether Najib is found guilty," said Mr Wan Saiful. "They (Adenan and other BN-friendly parties) may decide to ditch Umno and BN if BN fares badly in the peninsula."
On Thursday, Mr Najib said that 1MDB had settled the overwhelming majority of its debts and its major challenges are now behind it.
But former deputy prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin was not convinced that the 1MDB scandals have been adequately resolved. In a New Year message posted on his official Facebook account, he said he believes the government was still suffering a crisis of confidence.
The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission also said on Thursday that it has submitted two investigation papers on SRC International, a former 1MDB subsidiary probed for financial misappropriation, to the Attorney-General. It provided a separate investigation paper on the RM2.6 billion that was found in Mr Najib's personal accounts.