Monday, April 18, 2011

Rural voters unmoved by Pakatan's 'shock and awe'


Although BN's popular vote in yesterday's Sarawak election dropped significantly from 63 to 55 percent, preliminary analysis showed that it was mainly contributed by the swing in Chinese and Bidayuh areas.

Ibans who form the bulk of the total voters are still very much unpredictable.

NONEComparing the results of some 50 native-majority rural constituencies won by BN with the 2006 state poll results, it was found that Pakatan had generally managed to reduce BN's majority in half of the seats.

The remaining half saw a greater victory for BN.

In the Bidayuh-majority seats, which are concentrated around Kuching, BN's majority was also reduced but not significantly so for Pakatan to wrest them from the ruling coalition.

Malay and Melanau areas remained BN's fortresses. PKR and PAS only managed to make inroads in several seats, largely due to their popular candidates and aggressive campaigning, including in Tanjong Datu, Satok, Kalaka and Beting Maro.
Meanwhile Iban voters in the interior have shown a bipolar swing.

In the Iban constituencies around the small townships of Sri Aman and Betong, including Balai Ringin, Bukit Begunan, Batang Ai, Engkilili, Bukit Saban and Saribas (with a Malay majority but significant Iban presence), BN saw a great surge in its majority over the opposition.

Seats that sprang a surprise in favour of the opposition in were Simanggang and Layar. The former was due to the overwhelming Chinese votes given to DAP, and the latter was because of PKR's candidate Stanny Embat, who has been working on the ground since last year.
Understanding voting patterns
However, the Iban voters in the more interior areas along the Rejang river such as Tamin, Kakus, Katibas, Machan and Baleh decided to punish BN by slashing its majority. They even chose to vote out BN in Pelagus for Independent candidate George Lagong.

To understand such an outcome, it must be remembered that the pattern in Malaysia politics has generally seen the tendency for voters in areas closer to towns which enjoy better infrastructures and wider penetration of information to have higher political awareness and more attuned to matters of national concerns and ideology.

On the other hand, in the more under-developed interior areas - deprived as they are of basic facilities such as treated water, electricity, roads and medical service - financial goodies, aids and the services of elected representatives have greater utility.

NONEThey thus remain BN's stronghold, and where money politics and last-minute development promises run rampant.

Complicating this general pattern of politics further is a factor that can overshadow national issues and perceptions surrounding Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud 30-year term - local issues and the impact made by the individual candidates on the areas concerned.

These two factors are highly dynamic and vary from an area to another. Thus, local issues in one village may differ completely from those of their neighbours across the river.

Both elements are also, however, inter-connected.

Therefore, representatives who are seen as capable of address the local issues of concern would get support.

Where incumbents had failed to perform in their previous term, votes cast for the opposition are generally out of sentiments of protest rather than out of genuine support for the opposition.

Family politics also play a crucial role in local politics.

It is not uncommon for a candidate to win a seat due to his strong family network within the constituency or the contributions and services by his family members - even forefathers - to the people there.
Neutralising Pakatan
Many elected representatives are the descendants of respectable politicians.

Thus, while Pakatan NONEsought to capitalise on local issues during their campaigns in rural constituencies, BN managed to neutralise this strategy by sending Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak and his cabinet members on a statewide visits to provide last-minute promises and quick-fix solutions.

When the opposition struck back by highlighting many of BN's unkept promises, the personal visits by Najib - magnified by pro-establishment/mainstream newspapers - managed to convince the fence-sitters.

Understandably so, given government propaganda serving as the only constant source of information for natives in longhouses. The BN, thus, is seen as the only party that can improve their livelihood.

Yesterday's results also proved that issues such as religion freedom, corruption and native customary rights land did not resonate with Iban voters.

NONEWhile there have been disgruntlement among natives who feel they have been shortchanged, there were also fears that by voting in the opposition would jeopardise the status of their lands, many of which are involved in joint-venture programmes with government agencies or private companies that are linked with figures in the ruling coalition.
Hitting home

Religion and issues of corruption, thus, are seen as being too 'far' compared to issues like how much their joint venture programmes would pay in dividends next month or whether there would be enough rain in the coming weeks to fill up their water tanks.

azlanIt is still a long way for Pakatan to pose a real challenge to BN in the interiors of Sarawak.

The only way to build their base is through consistent ground work, from the very basics of political education for voters on how parliamentary democracy functions, to empowering the people against political inducements and intimidation.

A source of support that Pakatan has yet to tap for such purposes is the growing number of young voters in the semi-rural ares. Many of these more educated and Internet-savvy youths have not registered as voters.

Pinning hopes merely on the 'magic' of creative and aggressive campaign launched a mere weeks before an election does not work in the interior.

Should Najib decide to call for an early general election in the next six months, Sarawak would still maintain as BN's fixed deposit, though with a lower interest rate.
Kuek Ser Kuang Keng
Apr 17, 11


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