As Malaysia Poll Expectations Rise, Borneo Stronghold Stays Firm

(Bloomberg) -- Malaysia’s ruling coalition is confident of holding onto its stronghold of Borneo, as expectations rise that the country’s election could be underway as soon as Friday.

Sabah Chief Minister Musa Aman urged voters to look at the government’s achievements, including the construction of the Pan-Borneo Highway and doubling GDP per capita to 20,000 ringgit ($5,170) last year from 2005.

He’s hopeful the government’s performance will be enough to secure more seats for Prime Minister Najib Razak’s coalition in the upcoming election. Najib may dissolve the parliament Friday, paving way for polls that must happen within 60 days of the dissolution.

“Track record is very important,” Musa, 67, said in an interview on Thursday. “I’m not a chief minister who is only sitting in the air-conditioned room, I’m getting briefings and listening to the people.”

Sabah and neighboring Sarawak are key support bases for Najib, accounting for a third of parliamentary seats currently held by his Barisan Nasional coalition. It holds 21 of 25 seats in Sabah.

Located more than 1,400 kilometers (870 miles) across the South China Sea from peninsular Malaysia, Sabah sits on the northern tip of Borneo between Indonesia, the Philippines and Brunei. Illegal immigration is a main concern for local voters, along with the 6 percent goods and services tax and royalties from natural resources. The former sultanate accounts for more than a quarter of the country’s crude oil reserves.

Oil Royalty

Musa isn’t pledging higher petroleum royalties to compete with the opposition coalition’s promise to raise it to 20 percent from 5 percent. Stakes in local projects ensure fairer compensation to the state, including the 25 percent interest in production-sharing contracts for three oil and gas blocks and a stake in Petroliam Nasional Bhd.’s ammonia and urea plants, he said at his official residence in Kota Kinabalu.

A former banker who entered politics in 1980, Musa rose through the local ranks of Najib’s party to become chief minister in 2003. He’s also the brother of Foreign Minister Anifah Aman.

Support for Najib’s coalition will be put to the test in Sabah as Shafie Apdal, a former federal minister for Najib’s United Malays National Organisation, defected to set up his own party to fight for greater state autonomy, a long-standing concern for voters. Sabah’s current government has formed a special committee to address the issue and will come to a conclusion “very soon,” Musa said, without elaborating.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.