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The 1991 Sarawak election: continuity of ethnic politics

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-18, 09:09 authored by James ChinJames Chin
The East Malaysian state of Sarawak held an election in September 1991. It generated wide interest as the ruling coalition, the Melanau/Malay-led Sarawak Barisan Nasional (or Sarawak National Front, SBN), was expected to be strongly challenged by the native Iban-based political party, Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak (PBDS), which championed Dayak nationalism. PBDS had nearly toppled the SBN in the previous state election in 1987 and maintained its support in the 1990 parliamentary election when four of its covertly-backed 'independent' candidates won. Another opposition party, the Sarawak Democratic Action Party (DAP) also had high hopes that it would win at least two seats. Hitherto the DAP had lost in every state election. However the results were disappointment for the opposition. The DAP was decisively defeated and PBDS managed to win only half the Dayak seats. This article argues that the DAP's defeat was due primarily to the Chinese voters' mentality of 'wanting it both ways' and the ability of the Chinese-based ruling party, the Sarawak United People s Party (SUPP), to deliver economic opportunities. The PBDS defeat was due mainly to two factors: its incorrect strategies and the superior resources of the SBN. Although the PBDS lost, its share of the votes increased, indicating that it retained strong Iban support. The electoral defeat forced the PBDS back in to the ruling SBN, indicating that another Iban-led challenge to the Melanau/Malay-led administration is unlikely for some time to come. It is suggested, in conclusion, that IbanlDayak interests cannot be promoted significantly as long as they remain disunited.


Publication title

South East Asia Research








School of Humanities


I P Publishing Ltd.

Place of publication

United Kingdom

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Government and politics not elsewhere classified

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