Tony Pua looks back at 2016 Sarawak Elections

May 9, 2016

COMMENT: “Perhaps the Sarawak results, it  isn’t the end of the world, but it came quite close”, says MP Tony Pua (DAP). True. But blaming money politics is not good enough.

Pakatan Harapan’s problems have a lot to do with the structure of the coalition as it is presently conceived, and the mindsets of its present set of leaders. They are arrogant, remote and given to delusions of grandeur.


It is a coalition of convenience, essentially for the purposes of contesting elections. What we need is an alternative political force that can govern, not bunch of people with the gift of the gab. Pakatan bickers over seat allocations, quarrels and disagrees on strategies and a common platform, and has not been able since 2008 to agree about a shadow cabinet.

2008 was supposed to be the turning point in Malaysian politics. Malaysians were excited at the prospect of a viable alternative government. Terence Netto and I wrote an article which described Pakatan (then Pakatan Rakyat)’s success as a Malaysian spring (like Prague Spring, well before the Arab Spring caught our imagination). Hope  has given way to cynicism, frustration, and anger. Putrajaya was shaken but not beaten. UMNO-BN is a resurgent movement because the opposition is weak and disunited. Sarawak is a case in point.

A new leader took over from Badawi as Prime Minister in 2009.  Methods and tools employed in waging election campaigns have changed after that.  In addition, voters have seen Pakatan in action in Penang and Selangor and in Parliament.They see no difference between the two political camps. Pakatan politicians are of the same mould as those in UMNO-BN. Some Pakatan politicians equally are busy feathering their own nests and they have their own cronies.

While it is convenient to  accuse Barisan Nasional of using money to buy voters and other means to ensure electoral success, we know Pakatan has serious credibility problems. Many Malaysians are not confident that the political opposition can form an effective government. Rather than talk, something more fundamental needs to be done if Pakatan Harapan dreams to form the next national government. Strategy, structure and systems must come together with massive doses of humility, if the UMNO-BN juggernaut is to be beaten.–Din Merican

Tony Pua looks back at 2016 Sarawak Elections

“Perhaps the Sarawak result isn’t the end of the world, but it came quite close. The DAP didn’t lose all our seats, but we lost all our battleground.

Our campaign had its weaknesses, which we will in time rectify. But this was our most expansive and best prepared campaign in the history of Sarawak elections, despite the obvious limitations arising from a drastically uneven playing field.

Our messages were clear and consistent. They were twin-pronged — “national issues” affecting Sarawakians such as GST and BN’s corruption (Najib’s ‘donation’), and “local issues” such as roads, water, electricity and other basic infrastructural issues.

Both anecdotal and formal surveys told us these were the issues which are the issues which the people were most concerned about. Our campaign videos, leaflets and ceramah speakers focused almost exclusively on these issues. But they didn’t matter. We had hoped they did, right to the very end, but they didn’t.

In rural districts, our campaign teams were peppered with cash requests on a daily basis. “Supporters” turning up for nomination will follow up by camping at our campaign office awaiting their “allowance”. You want work done?

Pay up. You want PACA? Pay up. You want to campaign at a longhouse? Pay up. You want people to attend ceramah? Pay up. And of course, on the final day, voters were asking how much were we paying for their votes.

Some of our campaign teams were literally torn apart because of the question of “paying up”. When is it acceptable to pay an allowance and when is it not?

I’m proud to say that our teams did not hand out outright cash for votes. But in the heat of the campaign, you cannot believe the sheer will power needed to stay sane and how one’s principles gets stretched and questioned to a breaking point.

But we paid the price.This is best exemplified by our campaigns in Pakan, Ngemah and Simanggang. It was independents who were nobodies of particularly significance, other than the fact that they were backed by rich and powerful forces who gave BN the run of their money. The DAP, despite having worked the ground for many years, especially in Simanggang, lost our deposits. And where PKR entered the fray in Ngemah and Simanggang, they lost their deposits too.

These “independents” had no leaflets, no videos, no message and barely any campaign presence, managed to lose to BN by a whisker.It might even be more comforting to blame the inexcusable 3-corner fights with PKR for the losses we suffered. At least that would appear to be easier to remedy. But no, the 3-corner fights in these rural interior constituencies were details of little or no significance to the voters. Money unfortunately in this case, makes the world go round.

There were glimmers of hope and encouragement in 1-2 Dayak seats were we definitely gained ground, like Tasik Biru or even Mambong (despite being beset by a 3-corner fight). But they were too far and few in-between to offer any semblance of consolation.

On the other hand, in our incumbent urban seats, the size of BN’s majority in the 5 seats we lost showed that the battle was lost before it even began. We knew that the Adenan juggernaut will be BN’s single biggest weapon. We just didn’t expect the juggernaut to be near-invincible. Try as we did, and we threw the whole kitchen sink, we were unable to create a chink in BN’s armour.

In addition to the pressing issues surrounding GST and Najib’s scandal, we emphasized repeatedly on the need for check and balance via a strong opposition to ensure that Adenan didn’t become the next “pek moh”.

Despite the seeming strength of the message, it obviously did not have sufficient traction even among the urban voters. People were sufficiently happy with the few apparent concessions Adenan gave.

They were more than happy to overlook the continued corruption in the BN regime and the implications on the people via higher taxes. The rampant and blatant abuse of power by Adenan, such as banning Members of Parliament from entering the state also didn’t matter too much to them.

However, perhaps, had we not campaigned that hard, we might have lost even more seats. Therefore we must thank those tens of thousands of supporters who continued to stick to us under such trying circumstances.

Hence on hindsight, our Sarawak battle was one of limiting the damage rather than one of consolidating our hold on these seats won in the last elections, or making gains in the rural districts.

The election is undoubtedly a sobering experience. It makes you question your ideals, your principles and the worth of your fight. It shakes your faith in people and your beliefs that the better good will ultimately win at the end of the day.

These are the sort of times when you need inspiration to continue the fight, to pick ourselves up and to continue the journey. And the inspiration comes from heroes like the 75-year-old Lim Kit Siang — for I now finally appreciate his sheer strength in spirit and character to keep up the fight, despite repeated demoralising election losses and personal sacrifices he must have gone through in past elections pre-2008.

We will go lick our wounds. But in the interest of the millions of Malaysians, whether they appreciate it or otherwise, we will get up and fight again another day.For it is when good men do nothing, that evil men succeed.Tomorrow, will be a brand new day.

10 thoughts on “Tony Pua looks back at 2016 Sarawak Elections

  1. Opposition lost because there is no cooperation between the component parties, all greedy for power! To be able to defeat BN, they have to close ranks and analyse which candidate to field, irregardless of which party they represent. If opposition do not unite, victory will never be theirs till the sky falls down! LKS is power crazy and so is Azmin, following orders from his mentor who is instructing him from behind bars.
    Time to fully concentrate to “Save Malaysia” and not dwell on the past.

  2. Tony Pua, I agree with what you are saying. Sarawak and Sabah (or for that matter even Malaya) are not states that we can expect a level playing field. The incumbents (read umno) can do what they want with impunity. Organizations that are supposed to play fair take their instructions from umno. Even the EC is biased. At 4:00pm the voter turn out was 52%. By 5:00pm it had increased to 70%. Explain that. (And this was only mentioned at midnight). najib went all out to show that the people did not care about his corruption; and in this adenan satem was only a pawn. And it is going to continue that way until some foreign investigators reveal the truth. Pakatan has to forge ahead minus PAS. hadi awang cannot see beyond his turban.

  3. It is a blessing in disguise that the opposition/ coalition had suffered devastating annihilation in Sarawak .

    It lost because it lacked substance in the issues raised relevant or reaching out sufficiently with common vision not just to the rural folks, but the urban as well.

    Bread and butter,need and shelter issues of the people and particularly the deprivation of the rights in the context of Malaysia Agreement as Equal partner to Putrajaya, are drowned by the obsessions (an easy way out) to ouster Najib with his 1MDB scandal.

    Concentration on winning Without focusing diligently on how to play it is sure way of losing in any game. uncooperativeness, stubbornness and arrogance in newly found success among opposition partners and leaders in the coalition was a also major drawback.

    People confidence has been shaken. Dream on……. if lesson is not learned and corrected swiftly and effectively.

  4. I disagree money is an easy blame in Sarawak. It’s a painful confession for DAP. PKR, forever running away from dysfunctionalities grabbing at straws to avoid them, cannot withstand such objective catharticism.

    Azmin is a professional political.operator who excuses his limited leadership in the name of practicality that in reality are dysfunctionalities that is a constant trap that can never work.

    Make no mistake, getting someone else to pay for their dysfunctionalities will never work. How do you think we got Najib?

  5. 1. Sapuman has sapu enough to rain money in Sarawak;
    2. Why was the late secgen being a civil servant in Sarawak with his political boss?
    3. Why does iit take so long to identify the pilot? Is there a seventh person on board?
    4. Is the election commission keeping watch on the spending limit or for that matter is the commission du\oing its legally sanctioned duties?

  6. I know it is a cliche of the saying I learned from my high school rugby coach: In victory be humble, in defeat be brave. When the opponents have home-court advantage and the referee is on their side, team-work and precision in executing your team strategy become more relevant. The incumbents always have the advantage of resources allocation and the level of playing field. If you cannot come up with any alternatives and strategies to counter and compensate your disadvantages, you have no reason to be in the business. It reminds me of a guy I met at a golf game recently – blamed the wind for his bad play, blamed the equipment and everything but himself.

    • When the branches of a democracy all coalese into one huge buldozer to surpress dissent and become a huge corrupt megalomaniac, does the stae offer the common man any protection?

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