KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – Opposition member of the Malaysian parliament Nurul Izzah Anwar traveled to the island of Borneo on Monday to participate in a local election campaign. She didn’t stay long.
Immigration officials from Sarawak, a semi-autonomous state with its own border controls, refused to let her in. Ms. Nurul Izzah took the next plane home.
“I am participating in legitimate political activity,” she said on Tuesday. “But I found myself immediately deported as soon as I arrived. “
Sarawak’s vote on Saturday is the first test of Prime Minister Najib Razak’s popularity – and his willingness to participate in fair elections – since nearly $ 700 million was mysteriously deposited into his personal bank accounts.
Known for its dense rainforest and wildlife, Sarawak is distinguished from the 12 other states of Malaysia by its semi-autonomous status. He will hold elections for state and federal offices two years ahead of the rest of the nation.
For Malaysian opposition leaders, the restrictions on the campaign there are part of the frustration of clashing with Mr Najib, who heads Malaysia’s formidable governing coalition.
Ms. Nurul Izzah is one of more than two dozen opposition leaders and activists who have been denied entry to Sarawak this year, in line with a ban on “unsavory items” imposed by the Chief Minister of the state, Adenan Satem.
Mr. Najib and Mr. Adenan are allies and appeared there together last week to launch the campaign.
Critics say the money that landed in Mr. Najib’s accounts was embezzled from a government fund, the 1Malaysia Development Berhad, which he created. His office said most of the money was donated by the Saudi royal family. He denied any wrongdoing.
Mr. Najib campaigned in Sarawak last week in the hope that his candidates would prevail.
Since the 1990s, Sarawak has banned entry to political leaders and activists it deems undesirable, but expulsions have increased dramatically this year, according to a list compiled by the online news site Malaysiakini.
Asked about the ban last month, Adenan said, “I have to protect Sarawak’s interests from unsavory elements, political or otherwise. It’s my job.
He added that the deportees could return as tourists after the vote. “They are free to come to Sarawak at any time after the election,” he said with a laugh.
In addition to ruling Sarawak, Mr. Adenan is the leader of the Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu party. He is part of the Barisan Nasional government coalition led by Mr. Najib. Mr. Najib is also chairman of the country’s largest political party, the United Malays National Organization, which does not have a presence in Sarawak.
Among those refused entry to Sarawak are opposition MPs Tony Pua, Rafizi Ramli and Teresa Kok, as well as journalist Clare Rewcastle Brown, whose Sarawak Report website was blocked in Malaysia after reporting the reception of hundreds of millions of dollars by Mr. Najib. of dollars.
Attorney General Mohamed Apandi Ali, appointed by Najib, cleared the prime minister of all crimes this year, but investigations into the leader’s transactions continue in more than five countries.
“Mr. Najib has been investigated in five countries,” Ms. Nurul Izzah said. “If anyone was to be excluded, it should be him.”
Ms. Nurul Izzah is the daughter of former opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who is serving a five-year sentence for sodomy.
In the last national elections, in 2013, the opposition parties won a majority of the popular vote, but ended up with far fewer seats in parliament. That’s because the constituency lines favor rural voters, who typically support Mr. Najib’s coalition.
Starting the campaign last week, Mr. Najib called Sarawak’s elections a “precursor” to the next general election, scheduled for 2018. A victory this week, he said, according to Malay Mail Online, “will shape certainly a strong dynamic to allow us to move forward.