Tuesday, July 16

Sarawak, whither thou goest

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WAS there a voting tsunami, involving all the communities in Sarawak, like the one that caused the downfall of the ruling Barisan Nasional government in peninsular Malaysia in the just-concluded GE14?

The Sarawak BN won 19 out of the 31 parliamentary seats it contested  – way short of the 28 seats it was confident of delivering to the coalition.

The result was no better than the 2012 State Election when opposition won over 12 seats.Six urban seats were wrested back by the State BN with the Adenan factor in the 2016 state polls.

Not in their wildest dreams could the opposition Pakatan Harapan (PH) have thought they would win 10 parliamentary seats in Sarawak in GE14 nor the two independents  that they would trump BN in their strongholds.

As the dust begins to settle with Sarawak now an opposition state  it is a good time to reflect and take stock of what went wrong by looking at the constituencies BN lost.

It was apparent that the effects of the multi community tsunami, emanating from the peninsula, had swept through the length and breadth of Fairland Sarawak and the component parties PBB, SUPP, PRS, and SPDP were caught off guard.

Dayak tsunami

The Dayak tsunami was triggered by the voices of grassroots supporters being ignored. As the campaigning entered its final lap, worrying signs surfaced all over Julau, Selangau, Puncak Borneo and Saratok.

“I have never heard of community leaders being threatened to vote for the opposition or sacked from their position if they supported BN. Ironically the threat (allegedly) came from a ruling party state assemblyman,” a senior political leader was overheard talking to his officer on returning from a ‘fire-fighting’ mission in Julau.

Julau can be considered one of the safest seats for BN as the incumbent is a political heavyweight entering the ring for the fifth time.

Datuk Joseph Salang contested in 1999 against Kong Ah Huat (Independent) and won convincingly by 9,183 votes compared to his opponent’s 2,897.

At the height of Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak (PBDS) crisis in 2004, Salang defeated former PBDS wanita chief, Josephine Randan Mawat, who contested as independent, by polling 8,388 votes against his opponent’s 5,700.

Salang won the next two elections in 2008 and 2013 against two Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) candidates – Labang Jamba and Wong Hong Yu – with thumping majorities. He defeated Labang by 10,351 to 2,767 votes and Hong Yu by 9,891 to 2,852 votes.

Having followed Salang to his area many times since 2001, we have found the humble hard-working leader to be well liked by his constituents.

“I cannot choose my rakyat. They vote for or against me – they are still my rakyat. I’m their leader, regardless of whether they vote for or against me,” Salang has reiterated.

However, Salang’s relationship with the state assemblymen in his area had been always rocky. Before GE13, he was often attacked by Meluan assemblyman Rolland Duat during meet-the-people sessions or at official functions, hosted by Pakan assemblyman (Senior Minister) Tan Sri William MawanI kom.

Despite the unrelenting attacks, Salang managed to deliver the Julau seat without much difficulty. Julau parliamentary seat consists of Meluan and Pakan state constituencies.

Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) announced Meluan assemblyman, Rolland Duat, would be the Saratok parliamentary seat operation director. To further complicate matters, Mawan who is Pakan assemblyman, is the incumbent MP for Saratok.

Rolland’s men openly requested for Salang to be replaced. A tough-talking and no-nonsense assemblyman, he (Duat) was once attacked on social media for sacking community leaders.

At the height of the campaign, Rolland was dressed down by Science Research Advisor to Government, Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Alfred Jabu, for his harsh treatment and disrespect of community leaders. With both state assemblymen – Mawan and Duat – not campaigning for him, Salang could manage only 8,174 votes while his rival, former Assistant Minister Larry Sng, obtained 10,105.

It seems likely that Salang who contested for the  deputy presidency of Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) but lost to Datuk Seri Joseph Entulu, was a victim of the party’s internal crisis.

PRS woman candidates

PRS president Tan Sri Dr James Masing had been quite open with his intention to field a woman candidate many months before GE14. Many believe the person in question was former Senator Dato Sri Doris Sophia Brodie.

In fact, Masing intended to field two women candidates in LubokAntu and Selangau.

The Borneo Post managed to speak to Rita Insol and she confided she had been going to the ground in Selangau for more than a year. Due to a non-disclosure agreement with Rita, we did not report on her activity out of respect although the story would been be a ‘scoop.’

With Rita’s confirmation as a candidate for Selangau, there would be no place for out-of-favour Joseph Entulu despite the fact that he had won a keenly-contested PRS deputy presidency at the Party Congress.

Entulu brushed off the possibility of being dropped as rumours and he never replied the messages or phone calls from the media for clarification.

Entulu continued campaigning on the ground, insisting he had the blessings of former Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg to contest.

In a video made available to The Borneo Post by senior political analyst Prof Jeniri Amir, Entulu told longhouse folks that PM and CM had assured him of his candidacy.

However, the PRS president convened an emergency meeting and sacked the deputy president for insubordination and other ‘serious offences’ against the party.

Dr Jeniri described Masing’s move as a pre-emptive strike that many believed had “checkmate” Entulu. Apart from Entulu, Lubok Antu MP Datuk William Nyalau Badak was also sacked from PRS.

This internal crisis was seen by PKR Sarawak as a golden opportunity to strike while the iron is hot. There were some reservations though when PKR chose to field its Sarawak chairman, Baru Bian, an Orang Ulu leader, in the Iban-majority area.

Many considered the move to send Baru Bian to Selangau, a PRS bastion, as suicidal. But a big surprise was in store. When the official results were announced, it was Baru Bian who carried the day with 11,228 votes. His opponent Rita Insol polled 10,742 votes to give him a majority of 486 votes.

Masing’s replacement for William Nyalau in Lubok Antu was Robert Pasang Alam, a prominent legal officer and a well-known public figure. However, the Independent candidate, Jugah Mayang, in his campaign flyer, had specifically mentioned Robert is from Sebato, Niah, in Miri, and not a local boy.

The same flyer also attempted to discredit Robert over Native Customary Rights (NCR) issues. As a result, Robert was only able to garner 4,775 votes while Jugah Mayang swept to a surprise victory as an independent with 5,834 votes for 1,059-vote majority. Nicholas Bawin from PKR polled 3,942 votes.

Another disaster

The decision by Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) to field a political novice, Subeng Mula, in Saratok against PKR heavyweight Ali Biju also turned out to be another disaster.

Although Subeng claimed he had been moving on the ground for two years, most people in the parliamentary constituency did not seem to know the soft-spoken corporate figure.

Subeng was less articulate and assertive during campaigning whereas Ali Biju was fluent in English, Iban and Malay and could also get his message across in the accent of the local Saratok Malay.

While newbie Subeng was busy canvassing for votes through the official platform and informal gatherings, Ali went down deep into his opponent’s area, attending weddings as well as visiting grieving families. Ali’s strongest ally was his social media machinery – Saratok Update –which churned out all kinds of information albeit some might be half-truths.

Knowing he had the upper hand in Krian where he is the state assemblyman, Ali went on the offensive entering Kabong and Kalaka.

Water crisis

Kabong was facing a water crisis in the last five days to the campaign period. Taps were down to a trickle

and water delivery was slow. In such a dire situation, bereaved families were unable to bathe their loved ones who had passed on, according to Muslim rites.

Kabong people had voiced their discontent two days before polling when the village leader, General (Rtd) Datuk Awie Suboh took Minister of Utilities Dato Sri Dr Stephen Rundi Utom to task over the issue in an open dialogue which had gone viral.

Anger has been seething over water supply problems in most rural areas, not only in Kabong. The authorities have more than two years to resolve the issue before the next State Election.

On the last day of campaigning, BN tried to pacify the locals by sending a state minister to the area, thinking “all the noise” was a false alarm.

The deep-seated resentment, however, translated into defeats for BN at all three polling districts of Nyabor, Roban and Kabong itself which normally would deliver more than 80 per cent of 4,314 registered voters to BN. With Kabong voting overwhelmingly for Ali Biju, Subeng could not find support from the Malays.

While speaking in Kabong on one occasion, Subeng had expressed optimism he would get 80 per cent of votes from Kabong and Kalaka. Should he lose in Krian, he could still secure enough votes from the two state constituencies to win. This did not happen.

Ali Biju’s high-powered team comprised former Deputy Home Minister, Jelaing Mersat, and BN lobbyists for Saratok seat, Dr James Chella, and Basil Thomas.

Sources on the ground claimed many of Mawan’s supporters were also helping Ali Biju. It was, therefore, not surprising to see Ali Biju winby polling 11,848 votes against Subeng Mula’s 10,859 for a 989-vote majority.

New Malay voting trend

Over in Betong, BN candidate Robert Lawson Chuat did not face any serious problems when he emerged a big winner with 12,517 votes against PKR Noel Changgai Bucking’s 3,802 and independent candidate Abang Ahmad Abang Suni’s 4,401.

From the results, however, the obvious red flag was the 2,823 votes in Saribas and 1,042 in Bukit Saban –two predominantly Malay areas garnered by Abang Ahmad.

The discontent among the rural Malays over water supply issues, poor communications and seawater intrusion had translated into protest votes.

Worst still, the Malay NGOs who have been provoked into action by many controversial statements from Dayakisme groups are now going for broke, demanding equal attention and rights from the state government by pointing out that their non-Malay representative has been neglecting the coastal Malays and insisting that “Malays must vote Malays” in the same tone often used by controversial Dayak-based groups.

For the seats that BN retained,  the winning margins recorded a drop except for Batang Sadong, Kanowit, Kapit, Hulu Rajang, and Baram.

Chinese tsunami

In the urban seats that PH retained, most saw significantly higher majorities than in the 2013 parliamentary election. These seats are Bandar Kuching, Sarikei, Lanang, Sibu and Miri.

The voting tsunami did not come only from the Chinese but also the Malays as all urban seats have sizeable bumiputra voters. There are issues the state government need to address immediately with the State Election due in less than three years.

Prof James Chin, director of Asia Institute Tasmania in an immediate comment to The Borneo Post, said Sarawak is no longer BN’s fixed deposit.

“People simply cannot stomach BN-Umno’s toxic brand. Sarawak BN did themselves no favour by saying Umno had nothing to do with Sarawak since all BN parties sit as part of the federal government,” he said.

As for SUPP and UPP, the analyst is quite insistent on his comment that “the MOU signed between the two parties is now not more than a piece of toilet paper”.