Malaysia: Helicopter Disappears in Run-Up to State Election

Dennis Wong
160505-MY-sarawak-preview-620.jpeg Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak (left) greets Sarawak Chief Minister Adenan after a national cabinet meeting at Sarawak state secretariat building in Kuching, the first such meeting held outside of Putrajaya.
Dennis Wong/BenarNews

A helicopter carrying a Malaysian deputy minister and five others vanished Thursday during a flight in Malaysia’s eastern state of Sarawak, two days ahead of closely watched state elections.

The helicopter disappeared from radar screens while flying from the town of Betong to Sarawak's capital Kuching, local media quoted Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi as saying.

"The helicopter is believed to be in the Sebuyau costal area. Police, General Defense Forces and Marine Police have been deployed to the area to try to carry out a search-and-rescue operation," Zahid said.

Those on the flight were identified as Plantation Industries and Commodities Deputy Minister Noriah Kasnon, her husband Asmuni Abdullah, Sundaran Annamalai, the ministry's secretary general, Kuala Kangsar MP Wan Mohammad Khair-il Anuar Wan Ahmad, bodyguard Ahmad Sobri Harun and the pilot, Capt. Rudolf Rex Ragas.

Air traffic controllers lost contact with the helicopter at 5 p.m. Thursday, near Sebayau, according to early reports. A search and rescue operation has been launched, the Department of Civil Aviation confirmed.

“Deeply concerned about the reports of helicopter missing between Betong and Kuching. Search and rescue activated. Let us pray for their safety,” Prime Minister Najib Razak said in a message posted on Twitter and Facebook.

Sarawak official seeks federal concessions

As many as 1.3 million people are eligible to vote in Saturday’s State Legislative Assembly election. It is being seen as a litmus test for Malaysia’s ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, which also controls politics in Sarawak but has been mired in corruption scandals.

Sarawak and neighboring Sabah are the only Malaysian states that hold legislative elections separately from parliamentary elections. Eighty seats are being contested but BN already has captured two other seats unopposed.

After being ruled by BN for 53 years, people in Sarawak want the Malaysian government to give their state a greater share of revenue from its own resources. Chief Minister Adenan Satem, who is running in the May 7 election, has been spearheading talks with federal officials over this issue.

Adenan disassociates himself from federal government policies when talking to the state’s residents, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak associate professor Jeniri Amir told BenarNews.

“If you listen clearly to his speeches, his message is always saying that whatever Putrajaya is doing has nothing to do with Sarawak. This election is about Sarawak and has nothing to do with Najib,” Amir said.

Sarawak’s biggest demand is that royalties from oil and gas production be increased from 5 percent to 20 percent.

Najib, who leads BN, on Wednesday shot down that demand. He said it was not the right time to pursue negotiations because government revenues had shrunk due to a sharp drop in oil and gas prices.

The professor said some many translate Najib’s presence in the region during the campaigning season and his announcement on royalties as a threat to Adenan. In urban areas,opposition parties have labelled Adenan as a “puppet” for Putrajaya.

Opposition Democratic Action Party (DAP) candidate Abdul Aziz Isa has tried to seize on Najib’s announcement, claiming that Adenan failed Sarawak for not getting the higher royalties.

BN, affiliates draw support

Observers expect that, come Saturday, BN will retain control of the legislative assembly in Sarawak.

It will be difficult to shake support for BN in Sarawak because many still regard the coalition as the only option, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia associate professor Mohd Faisal Syam Abdol Hazis told BenarNews.

“The opposition can’t even work together and agree on seat allocations. In Batu Kitang constituency for example, DAP is challenging PKR [The People’s Justice Party] which is also challenging BN. This alone not only sends a strong message to the voters, it will also split their chances,” Hazis said.

Meanwhile, a group of affiliate parties represent BN in Sarawak.

Sarawak United Bumiputera Heritage Party (PBB) is the strongest affiliate party in the state and is targeting 40 of the 82 seats contested.

Three other local affiliates are Sarawak People's Party (PRS), Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP) and Sarawak Progressive Democratic Party (SPDP). These affiliates allow Sarawak BN to create a perception that it is run by local parties that understand local concerns.

Three parties, namely DAP, PKR and National Trust Party form an opposition bloc. The Islamic party, Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party left the bloc several months ago and is contesting 11 seats on Saturday.


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