Sunday, August 22, 2010

The forthcoming State Election and what it means to the BN and Pakatan Rakyat

By Stanley Bye Kadam Kiai

The forthcoming state election which must be held by July 2011 at the latest will be a significant one for Sarawak politics and government.

However, its significance may not be considered to be in the same mould as the 1970 election which had led to the formation of the coalition government that we have today or the 1987 election which was prompted by the Ming Court incident and which had defined the nature and the course of politics in the state since then.

The forthcoming state election is a significant one because after the election, Sarawak is likely to experience a change in the state leadership. The only question is the timing of that change, and the individuals that are going to be involved. The scene, however, has been set for this to happen.

Will this change in leadership take place immediately after the election or will it take place in the middle of the mandate or towards the end of it?

How will the shape of the new state cabinet look like? What would be its composition? Will new faces be incorporated into the next state cabinet or will old faces be retained?

Of course, the state leadership will change immediately on Pakatan Rakyat’s victory, which for now is still unlikely unless some drastic event is happening. There must be a major political and policy blunder committed by the BN for it to lose power in Sarawak.

But politics is the art of possibility. Reversal of fortune could happen and in politics when this happens, it could happen very fast. One may not see it coming.

The results of the 2008 national election in five states have shown this to be the case. In that election, the BN was really caught off guard and up till today it still could not believe what had taken transpired.

The opposition is banking on this to happen again. They were not expected to win in at least four of the five states, but they won anyway. They are not expected to win this time around. But they have tasted victory, and may have learned the right tricks to achieve it again.

If the BN is not careful, this election will give the opposition the foundation for it to fight the next round of battle which could be even more crucial and critical for the BN cause.

This state election also will see for the first time that the opposition will campaign under one banner, the Pakatan Rakyat. They had seen their effort bearing fruits in the Sibu Parliament by-election in May 2010, and they are now beaming with confident and pride.

After losing 9 seats unexpectedly to the opposition in 2006 state election, the BN hopes to use this election to regain lost ground and to re-establish itself firmly once more in the state politics.

The opposition will use this state election to try to gain more ground on the BN and hopes it will be able to capitalise on the success it achieved in the Sibu Parliamentary by-election in May.

The opposition had also won most of the by-elections held since the unprecedented incidents in the 2008 national election. These victories may provide it some hopes and some of its candidates may believe that they have a fighting chance of winning.

For most opposition candidates, contesting in elections in the past is like been given a baptism of fire where they faced humiliating defeat, but 2008 provided a renewed hope of upsetting the BN incumbents.

Is the opposition really believed now that it is capable of repeating the feats of 2008 where some of its younger candidates produced stunning victory against powerful and experienced BN incumbents in their own backyards?

All indicators seem to point to the fact that this forthcoming state election is going to be a hotly contested affair and it is also going to be full of twist.

Barring no unforeseen circumstances, all the BN incumbents will be retained as its candidates, because as of now none of them have come forward to say that they are retiring from politics.

As there is no mandatory retirement in politics as in other employment, the onus is on the politician himself to call it a day and leave the centre stage gracefully.

The nature of politics in this country is that, once one is nominated as a BN candidate and won, one can have the seat for as long as one wishes as the BN had won election after election handsomely, and this is especially so in Sarawak.

There are some good and effective politicians – in a sense that they are capable of delivering the goods and are respected by the people – while at the same time there are some hopeless and ineffective ones, but they have been there because they are part of the system which can ensure election victory.

In this situation, only the politicians themselves know when they should retire to allow the younger blood to take over. For far too often we have heard the politicians saying that the youths are the leaders of tomorrow, but the opportunities for them to prove their capabilities to be the leaders for the future have not been put in right perspective.

The mandate of the state government only ends in May 2011, but in practice the State Legislature could be dissolved anytime from now until May 2011 to path the way for the Ninth Sarawak State General Election.

All aspiring candidates must be prepared, as the motto of the Boys Scout say, as no one knows exactly when the Chief Minister is going to call for the dissolution of the State Legislature.

The bastion of the BN power is in the rural areas. It will be a tall order for the opposition to unseat the BN in rural constituencies in Sarawak, and this is especially so in the Malay and Melanau areas.

The Iban area is more volatile as past experience had shown, but the Prime Minister had visited many Iban areas since he took office last year, and the Iban may have become even more close to the BN than ever before as a consequence.

The RM20 millions allocation for perimeter survey of the NCR land as announced by the Prime Minister in July 2020 is widely accepted by the rural communities in Sarawak as a good public policy initiative from the federal government as it attempts to resolve some of the peculiar issue affecting NCR land owners.

The problem for the BN is what to do with the urban voters, most of whom are of Chinese descents. The techniques of wooing voters by giving ‘instant noodle’ projects have failed to attract urban voters to the BN cause in the Sibu Parliamentary by-election.

What campaign tactics will the BN employ to counteract the opposition campaign strategy in urban areas?

The Chinese form a substantial number of voters in many rural constituencies. If they are to become influenced by their urban counterparts, the BN may face stiffer competition in rural constituencies.

Rumours is circulating that the state election is not going to be held too soon as the BN still does not know exactly what to do with urban voters, especially the younger ones, who seem to be drifting away from the government.

The BN wants to carry on with what it has done and achieved, while the Pakatan Rakyat wants to establish itself in the state and hopes to redefine the politics in Sarawak.

Whether it is going to be held sooner or later, this forthcoming state election is going to be a defining moment for both the BN and Pakatan Rakyat.

Note: The writer is a Senior Lecturer with Faculty of Social Sciences, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak.

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