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Barisan Nasional spends big to keep key seats
The two key States of Sarawak and Sabah are crucial for both major parties leading up to Malaysia's election, as Liam Cochrane reports.

So support for the Barisan Nasional Ruling Coalition still remains strong, particularly among Malay voters.

The opposition has been targeting Johor, as well as two states in the east, where the Barisan Nasional Ruling Coalition has dominated.

It's expected there will be a significant swing towards the opposition in Sabah and Sarawak, but the question is will it be enough?

Liam Cochrane reports from Malaysia's eastern states.

LIAM COCHRANE, REPORTER: Malaysia's biggest state, Sarawak, it's lush jungle and exotic cultures attract tourists from around the world. But it's the haul of potential federal seats that has Malaysia's politicians focussed on Sarawak. The 31 seats up for grabs here have traditionally gone to the ruling coalition.

DR JENIRI AMIR, UNIVERSITY OF MALAYSIA SARAWAK: It's very, very important for the prime minister to ensure that they win more than at least, more than 20 seats in Sarawak, to ensure that they can win the federal government.

LIAM COCHRANE: The biggest demographic of potential voters is with the indigenous Iban people, the famed former head hunters of Borneo.

In traditional Iban villages everyone lives under the one roof, and there are some 5,000 of these long houses across the state.

Opposition candidates are campaigning hard for Iban votes but acknowledge it will be tough to win them over.

SEE CHEE HOW, DAP ELECTION DIRECTOR, SARAWAK: Government today is like their parents that they will take care of their interests.

NICHOLAS MUJAH, PKR CANDIDATE: Those like those in the town area on the urban area, there's a bigger hope for the coalition can win the state. But in the rural area where I'm standing now, it's really a great challenge you know.

LIAM COCHRANE: Political scientist Dr Janiri Amir says generally Iban voters have supported the party that can provide for their basic needs - electricity, clean water, bridges and building supplies for their long houses.

For the last 56 years that provider has been the Barisan Nasional Coalition. But Dr Amir says the encroachment of plantations into traditional Iban land has angered long house chiefs.

DR JANIRI AMIR: I think the mother of all issues among Iban voters is of course NCR land, native customary right land. So actually they apply for this land. But the Government didn't give the title to this land and instead most of this land was given to proxy companies or companies related to the chief minister of Sarawak.

LIAM COCHRANE: Sarawak's chief minister is Taib Mahmoud whose party is in the Barisan Nasional Coalition. He's ruled this state since 1981 and his influence over Sarawak cannot be overstated.

The Iban people here wouldn't talk on camera about politics. One long house chief said he had been warned not to speak to foreigners following the release of a secretly recorded video showing relatives and business associates of the chief minister trying to arrange crooked land deals for their own financial gain.

(Excerpt from video plays - courtesy of Global Witness)

MAN OFF CAMERA (subtitled): Is this your uncle?

MAN (subtitled): Yes.

MAN OFF CAMERA (subtitled): How many uncles you got?

MAN (subtitled): From my wife's side, they are from a big family.

MAN OFF CAMERA (subtitled): But then behind that is the Chief Minister?

MAN (subtitled): Yes.

MAN OFF CAMERA (subtitled): OK. And will he ever surface?

MAN (subtitled): No, never. It's like "I [Taib] award you this licence. In return you grateful to me." Maybe he say I give you a percentage.

FEMALE (subtitled): I know people are talking about him being corrupted and all, but I think who isn't in this world when they're leaders (laughs).

(Excerpt ends)

LIAM COCHRANE: Taib Mahmoud has denied the people in the video were acting on his behalf and those caught on camera have denied wrong doing.

TAIB MAHMOUD (subtitled): I think it is a bit naughty of them. They're using their big power to blacken my name.

LIAM COCHRANE: The Global Witness video was followed up by the leaking of a report from Malaysia's Human Rights Commission with fresh revelations about harassment and violence against land activists and criticisms of the state governments management of land.

What is not clear is whether people in remote areas have heard these damaging accusation and what influence it will have come election day.

Something that is securing voters, though, is cash. In the lead-up to the election, the government has been handing out money to poor families and students.

STUDENT: They can get me something for the study, like student, they give you and dream, one person they give 500 ringgit. That is why we support PM.

LIAM COCHRANE: Critics say the cash handouts amount to vote buying. But the government says it's a targeted way to help the poor.

At the last election, the Opposition secured just one of Sarawak's 31 Federal seats, and knows it must pull off a big swing here for the chance of taking power will fade for another five years.

Further north on the island of Borneo, lies the state of Sabah. Renowned for its orangutan, scuba diving and oil palm plantations, it's Malaysia's third biggest electorate. Like Sarawak, it's considered a fixed deposit state for the ruling coalition which won 24 of the 25 federal seats in the last election.

Among many voters the issue of illegal immigration is a top priority. For decades, hundreds of thousands of Muslims from the Philippines and Indonesia have settled in Sabah, changing the religious, economic and political balance.

ARNOLD PUYAK, POLITICAL ANALYST: There's been allegations that Filipinos from the Philippines, Indonesian labourers from Indonesia were arrested illegally in order to help the ruling party to win the election.

LIAM COCHRANE: The sensitivity around foreigners coming in illegally around Sabah has increased since the so-called Sulu incursion this year. More than 200 men from the southern Philippines made claim to land at Lahad Datu on Sabah's east coast. When the Malaysian government eventually took action they kill more than 60 Suluks and lost 10 Malaysian security forces.

DAVID OROK, CANDIDATE STAR: That made the people of Sabah, especially the Sabah native, feel that they are not secure in their own country.

LIAM COCHRANE : What effect the violence will have on the election is unclear. Some say it shows the stability of another BN government is needed to counter the security threat while others say it shows the government botched its security responsibilities.

With just days to go in the campaign, political analysts say the opposition will win between 10 and 15 seats in the eastern states. Now that's significant because the Pakatan Rakyat Opposition Coalition thinks it needs around 30 seats overall to win the election.

What's more if the election result does look close on Sunday night, it's thought some political parties here in Sabah and in Sarawak will jump ship in an attempt to end up on the winning team.

Whether the vote swings in favour of the opposition or remains with the ruling coalition there are some big issues facing the Borneo states. Many people in Sarawak and Sabah feel let down by the way West Malaysian politicians and business people have developed their rich natural resources.

Land rights, corruption, immigration and identity are all issues which could in the future disturb the relaxed beauty of Malaysia's eastern States.
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