The swing of Chinese votes

KUCHING: The State BN’s victory in eight Chinese-majority constituencies is a resounding one, considering the odds that were stacked against them in the face of the furious onslaught from the opposition, especially the Democratic Action Party (DAP).

The ruling coalition’s success in these eight seats (out of 16 at stake) and the much reduced majority in the seats they lost to DAP showed it has made some inroads into the DAP’s urban strongholds.

There are 16 Chinese majority seats across Sarawak namely Pending, Batu Lintang, Kota Sentosa, Batu Kawah, Padungan, Repok, Meradong, Bawang Assan, Pelawan, Bukit Assek, Dudong, Tanjong Batu, Pujut, Senadin, Piasau, Batu Kitang.

In this election, DAP retained Padungan, Pending, Kota Sentosa, Bukit Assek, Pelawan, Tanjong Batu and Pujut but failed to defend Batu Kawah, Repok, Meradong, Dudong and Piasau while PKR successfully kept Batu Lintang.

Bn also won in the new seat of Batu Kitang where PKR and DAP clashed.

It has been an uphill task for the Chinese BN candidates to wrest these seats. After being elected for one term, and some for two terms, the opposition are now well established in their constituencies where both DAP and Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) have built up their support base.

In urban opposition strongholds these BN Chinese candidates were still able to make a breakthrough because of state BN chairman Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Adenan Satem’s outreach to the Chinese voters through the initiatives he implemented.

In fact, the Chinese BN candidates could have won more seats had the state election been called earlier as the Adenan effect was overwhelming when it first started but waned somewhat in the face of continuous bombardment from DAP public rallies (ceramah) in campaigning before the polls.

Over the course of 11 evenings since Nomination Day on April 25, one could see these nightly ceramahs gained momentum each night – from a few hundred to a few thousands, culminating in tens of thousands in urban centres such as Sibu, Miri and Kuching.

These ceramahs continued to prove an effective platform for DAP to explain their ideology, poke fun at BN candidates and leaders, especially Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, and undermine Adenan’s achievements.

Although the opposition leaders from Peninsular Malaysia were barred from entering Sarawak, the advancement in technology, however, still allowed them to influence the local voters with national issues through free online communication applications such as Skype.

For local issues, the SUPP candidates in Kuching were criticised for their failure to represent the Chinese community and its candidates were branded as cowardly and dared not stand up to BN top leadership.

In Sibu, DAP clung to the ‘age factor’ in their attack whereby Adenan was mocked for picking his candidates from old folks homes because all three direct

BN candidates – Dato Sri Wong Soon Koh (Bawang Assan), Datuk Tiong Thai King (Dudong) and Dato Janet Lau (Pelawan) are more than 65 years old.

However, across Sarawak, national issues such as 20 per oil royalty, 1MBD and GST as expected, were still the main ones played up by the opposition.

The most damaging ploy against BN Chinese candidates was when DAP leaders equated supporting Adenan to voting for Najib, marring Adenan’s image.

Some Chinese voters who initially decided to vote for BN changed their minds after the opposition drove home the argument that when they voted for Adenan, they were directly supporting Najib.

In fact, that again cost BN quite some substantial Chinese votes, especially when Najib announced that this was not the good time to discuss oil royalty as fuel price was low.

However, Adenan’s reformative policies were not totally unnoticed or unappreciated in face of DAP campaign. Compared to the size of the crowds at DAP ceramahs on the April 15 evening of 2011, the number of attendees at party’s ceramahs on May 6 in this election had reduced by one-third.

Running up to polling day, the DAP candidates were feeling as uneasy as those from BN.

No side was sure of their victory.

The uncertainty was also reflected in the predictions of political observers.

Some had predicted that BN would lose all seats its urban Chinese-majority seats, and others, at the other extreme that, BN would win back all the seats except Kota Sentosa and Batu Lintang.

Regardless, they did come to on one common conclusion – that the return of the Chinese voters in this 11th Sarawak State Election is not a reflection of the general mood of the Chinese across the country.

The wresting back of five seats – Batu Kawah, Repok, Meradong, Dudong and Piasau, the retaining of two seats of Bawang Assan and Senadin and the winning of the only new Chinese majority seat of Batu Kitang as well as the much-reduced majority of DAP and PKR has indicated an initial and substantial return of Chinese voters to BN.

That is definitely good news for Adenan.

However, with both former United People’s Party (UPP) president Dato Sri Wong Soon Koh retaining Bawang Assan and Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP) president Senator Datuk Dr Sim Kui Hian winning in Batu Kawah, Adenan would have to resolve the thorny issue involving the two leaders.

With SUPP winning seven seats and UPP five, the end of the 11th election is just the beginning of a power struggle between Wong and Dr Sim over the position of Deputy Chief Minister which Adenan has promised to the Chinese community if the BN Chinese leaders could deliver several seats.

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