As the movements and the political activities on the ground have intensified enormously, every interested individual in Sarawak is anticipating the Chief Minister to call for a snap election. But this is not likely to happen in the near future.
Politics is about a game of deception and attrition. It is a power game. Players in this game have to be ready all the time, as in being a substitute in a football match, as you do not exactly know when you are required to play and win the game for your team. In politics, it is always advisable to keep your opponents to play the guessing game when it comes to the timing of the election in order to catch them off guard when the game is on.
The next State election promises to be interesting tussles between the Barisan Nasional (BN), the party in power, and its challenger, the Pakatan Rakyat (PR). Here are ten things that you may wish to know about the State 10th General Election.
First, my intuitive feeling is that the next Sarawak State Election which is due in May 2011 is going to be held in early April. In the last state election, polling was timed perfectly so that the BN could celebrate its election victory on the same day the Chief Minister celebrated his 69th birthday.
I believe, for this forthcoming state election, the BN will adopt a new approach. The first week of April is a good time to call for an election. April is a month of rejuvenation. The weather in Sarawak at this time of the year is favourable for campaigning and soliciting for votes, and, above all, it is also a time of celebration for the BN people.
On 26 March next year, the BN or rather the state of Sarawak for this matter, will celebrate Taib’s 30th anniversary as the Chief Minister of Sarawak. In this conjunction, I could foresee that there will be a lot of cake cutting ceremonies to mark the occasion. The BN could use the ‘cake cutting ceremony’ as a new technique of canvassing for votes.
Second, I believe that the BN is going to form the next Sarawak state government as it had done previously since the day Sarawak achieved its independence from the British in 1963. I do acknowledge that the BN government has some flaws and defects that it needs to rectify effectively, but at the moment there is no concrete evidence to suggest that the Pakatan Rakyat is capable of taking over the State Government from it. Unless something change drastically and unforeseen events happening in the next eight months, I cannot discern a Pakatan victory.
Third, I believe that the Pakatan Rakyat’s main objective for this election is to retain all the 7 urban seats it won in the 2006 state election, to inflict further damage on SUPP, to gain inroads into the Bumiputera areas, especially into the Iban areas, and to increase sizably its popular votes. It will use this election as a launching pad for its future struggles against the BN in Sarawak politics. State elections will be held again in 2016, in 2021, in 2026, and it wants to be ready for them more than ever.
Fourth, in this election, PKR, PAS and DAP will contest as a group for the first time in Sarawak. The members of the pact had shown that they were capable of working together for a common good and upsetting the BN in the Sibu parliamentary by-election in May 8, 2010 where its component member, the DAP won against the BN-SUPP.
BN leaders have consistently reminded Sarawakians to reject the Pakatan Rakyat, describing it as an outsider as its components members have their bases in Peninsular Malaysia. By portraying PKR, PAS and DAP as outsiders, are Sarawak politicians not implying that they have no rights to come to Sarawak. Is this view point not contrary to the concept of 1Malaysia which the BN in Sarawak is trying to capitalise on in order to gain more support for its cause.
Why worry about these groups of people if you know that you have performed your task well? Why become apprehensive when you know that you have a good track record in meeting the needs of the people?
As their parties have been classified by state BN leaders as ‘outsider’, how are we going to call all those Sarawakians who are to run under the Pakatan Rakyat tickets? Can they be called as outsiders too? Or are they traitors as they collude with the outsiders in an attempt to rule the state?
Fifth, is the question of what to do about the Chinese voters who seem to be drifting away from the BN and in particular, from the SUPP? In the 2006 state election, the Chinese voters in Kuching, Sibu and Bintangor voted out SUPP incumbents. The Chinese also helped SNAP’s candidate to win in Engkilili against SUPP’s Bumiputera candidate. SUPP also failed to regain Bandar Kuching from the DAP in the 2008 National Election. It also lost to the DAP in the Sibu parliamentary by-election despite having won the seat with a comfortable majority in five successive elections previously.
Sixth, there is a possibility that the Chinese community may not be represented at all in the next BN state government if all SUPP’s Chinese candidates are to lose. Of course, SUPP could be represented in the government by its Bumiputera members, but this may not be what the majority of SUPP’s supporters actually want.
The Sarawak State Legislature does not have a second tier where a person could be appointed as a Senator and then made a cabinet minister as in the Federal legislature. So there will be no ‘back door entrance’ for the losing BN candidates to be made a minister.
Seventh, some Bumiputera politicians have said that they are not worried about whether the Chinese are going to give their support to the BN or not as the majority of the state seats are in the rural areas and are held by the Bumiputeras. Fifty-six of the seventy-one state seats are in the Bumiputera majority areas, while only 15 seats are in the Chinese-majority areas.
In other words, they do not really care about what might transpire in the urban areas as long as the rural people are still supporting them.
I think this is bad politics. It is unfortunate if these Bumiputera politicians think that this is how to move away from the impasse.
I believe the majority of the people in the rural Sarawak are still with the BN. In the last state election only the urban Chinese translated their dissatisfaction with the government to votes, while their rural brethrens remained steadfast with the government. I hope that the Bumiputera politicians have not forgotten that the non-Bumuputera or rather the Chinese constitute a sizable number of voters in the rural constituencies. If they follow their urban brothers and sisters this time around, the Chinese in rural towns could sway the election results to the opposition in the Bumiputera held rural constituencies. There are a lot of non-Bumiputera voters in Lundu, Bau, Serian, Sri Aman, Betong, Saratok, Engkilili, Kapit, Limbang and Marudi, and you better be on guard.
Eighth, it is also bad politics and poor judgment to imply that the rural natives have a simple mind, and that there are just as happy with the projects that the government is dishing out to them. In other words, they are easy to please and hoodwink and therefore they are already in their hands. Yes, they still need the government to give them electricity, water supply and so on, but they are also getting as sophisticated as their urban counterparts. Every single longhouse in Sarawak, I believe, already has, at least one or two of its members, visited Kuala Lumpur and see for themselves the types of development that is taking place over there.
Ninth, the BN has to be careful and stop assumes that the people are with it for all seasons. Maybe this time around the people allow their heads to rule their hearts. The BN has always been dear to the hearts of the people. But there are still many peculiar issues that affect their livelihood strategy and the way they live that have not been adequately addressed despite the honest effort of the government. Poor delivery system or bias delivery system of public goods and services is one factor that the government needs to tackle immediately.
Take welfare assistance for example. The people are grumbling about how does the system work and about the selection process. Some sections of our community may have felt that they have been sidelined, ignored, neglected, and, above all, discriminated as a result.
There are many cases here if one cares to investigate where one person is climbing the ‘nibong’ tree while the other person is climbing the ‘pinang’ tree. This proverb is used to describe how one person can get thing so easily, while the other person has to do it the hard way in order to be able to get the same thing.
If the government is not careful, its welfare program can become a ‘gold mine’ for those who are well connected, who have access, who have influence, and who can manipulate the system to his own benefits.
The welfare assistance is a good social policy. The people need to be helped if they cannot put food on the table or if they are incapable of taking care of their own welfare needs. The industrialised countries have implemented this policy decades ago through its ‘dole’ system and other forms of social-welfare assistance.
The problems could arise when the people that are supposed to receive this welfare aid do not get it, while those who less deserve it or who do not deserve it at all, could have obtained it earlier. At a disadvantaged are those who sit at the bottom of the ladder.
It takes much longer to get to the top of the ‘nibong’ tree than to get to get to the top of the ‘pinang’ tree because the ‘nibong’ tree has many thorns, while the ‘pinang tree’ has none. The ‘pinang’ tree has smooth barks, it is smaller and shorter and therefore it is easier to climb it than to climb the ‘nibong’ tree. Even if one is able to reach the top of the ‘nibong’ tree, the feat is going to be achieved at the expense of getting abrasion, bruised or being pricked by the thorns.
Tenth, and last, though not least, it is interesting to know who the new PBB candidates could be. The party has indicated that about 30% of its candidates for the forthcoming state election will be new faces. New faces, of course, do not necessarily mean younger faces.
Older faces which could bring short term advantages to the party could well be selected. In England, for example, Bolton striker Kevin Davis has just been called up by Englang manager Fabio Capello for the Euro 2012 qualifier against Montenegro. If Davis at 33 is to play against Montenegro on October 12, he will be the third oldest debutant England international football player after Leslie Compton at 38 and Alec Morten. Leslie Compton was 38 years old when he played for England against Wales in 1953, while Alec Morten was already in his forties when he represented England against Scotland in 1873.
PBB may not want to risk losing to the opposition by putting up inexperienced candidates. The party may want to invest for the present, instead of for the future for now.
There are many other important talking points that we can discuss about the 10th state election, but these ten are enough to ponder upon at the moment.
*The writer is a Senior Lecturer with the Faculty of Social Sciences, Univerisiti Malaysia Sarawak.