May 10, 2016
Sarawak for Sarawakians from Here On–Political Game Changer too
There is a host of reasons for this but the most important is that the opposition does not realise one thing till today – which Barisan Nasional (BN) did since Malaysia was formed in 1963 – Sarawakians are Sarawakians or whichever community they come from, first and second, and Malaysians perhaps third.
Lest I am accused of bias against Sarawakians, let me quickly add that a similar statement probably applies to many of us elsewhere in Malaysia. Remember, a former Deputy Prime Minister no less, famously or infamously said, depending on your point of view, that he was Malay first and Malaysian second.
Thus, Sarawakian issues matter far more for Sarawakians than Malaysian ones such as the 1Malaysia Development Bhd (or 1MDB scandal). And they will matter much more for state elections – Sarawakians have to decide matters of their own state, right?
So what’s the first thing that the opposition parties in Sarawak that are not ‘Sarawakian’ must do? They must pack up and leave and hightail it back to Peninsular Malaysia. They have no business being in Sarawak and they will not, in a million years, gain full acceptance there but will always be viewed with some trepidation.
(Sabah is crucially different. UMNO – and only UMNO from Peninsular Malaysia – gained some acceptance because of a huge and questionable influx of Muslim voters, which was confirmed by a subsequent royal commission of inquiry on that matter. This was done over a number of years, eventually tipping the voter balance there. Money and this caused Joseph Pairin Kitingan’s party, PBS, now back in the BN coalition, to lose. But that’s another story.)
Why, Sarawak is almost another country, and they seem to be so especially with the constitutional right to bar anyone from the Peninsula to enter this country without having to give any reason whatsoever. There is no recourse to the courts. They can and do discriminate against fellow Malaysians from the Peninsula more than they do foreigners.
We must be the only country in the world where a person from one state can’t settle in another state within the same country without permission from that particular state – in Malaysia’s case Sarawak and Sabah. Mind you, it does not apply the other way around – as far as I know, the practice is Sarawakians and Sabahans can settle anywhere in Malaysia. Will this anomaly be corrected?
Do what BN has been doing all these years
All right, if the Peninsular Malaysian opposition parties voluntarily kick themselves out of Sarawak (instead of involuntarily as happens to some of their leaders), what do they do? Simply do what BN has been doing all these years.
Let the Sarawakians form their own opposition parties and bring them into the federal opposition coalition, whatever it might turn out to be in future – Pakatan Rakyat, Pakatan Harapan or something else. Just offer them guidance and support in their formation and truly look after them.
That the opposition has not done this after so many years, 55 to be precise, shows them to be rather impractical, egotistical and putting individual party interests above that of the coalition.
For instance, DAP will not be willing to give up its easy parliamentary seats in urban areas in Sarawak where Chinese predominate in favour of a Sarawakian party because it will have fewer seats in Parliament. Likewise with PKR, with whatever little it has in Sarawak. Meantime, other aspirants from the Peninsula, such as PAS and Amanah, have been well and truly thrashed and their ambitions to become a power in the state crushed.
Such short-termism and putting party interests above that of the greater good inspire little confidence among the people, some of whom are prepared to vote in a new party that can bring real, positive change, as shown in some swing among rural voters this time. But how much confidence can people have in an opposition that can’t even sort out its differences to ensure that their candidates don’t contest against each other?
If there is to be a new government based on genuine fair play, corruption-free practices, good governance and which truly represents everyone in the country irrespective of race, religion or creed through a viable coalition, then the opposition has to make some truly game-changing moves. That is not there on the foreseeable horizon.
If there is, then one will see the emergence of Sarawakian opposition parties to represent the various different communities and which can all come together as one under an opposition coalition, instead of the current spectacle of four opposition parties from across the South China Sea fighting one another and BN to seek representation in Sarawak. What a sorry state!
Adenan Satem played a great political hand when he took over from Taib Mahmud’s long 33-year rule as Chief Minister and promptly appeared to distance himself from Taib’s policies, although Sarawak insiders believe he is still close to Taib who still reigns as the Yang di-Pertua Negeri of Sarawak.
In a game reminiscent of that of Abdullah Badawi in 2004 who took over after the long 22-year leadership of Dr Mahathir Mohamad at the national level and won handsomely on the back of promises made but broken, Adenan promised action against corrupt timber barons (although at least one timber baron became a state assemblyman in the recent elections), courted non-bumiputeras and Christians (46 percent of Sarawak’s population versus just 23 percent Muslim), and worked out deals with the federal government for major infrastructure projects.
The opposition did not seem to have enough to counter this, instead appearing to rely on the IMDB issue which has tainted the federal government but is not a bread and butter issue in Sarawak, especially for the state election. Under the circumstances, it was a foregone conclusion for most that BN would do better in Sarawak.
And there are many Sarawak issues – corruption, timber barons, lopsided development, poverty pockets, money politics, etc. These are things that Sarawakian parties can better bring up instead of the peninsular parties that look at federal issues and Sarawak as a vote basket.
So bad is giving out money and goodies during elections in Sarawak that politicians speak to the people with rice packages stacked up neatly on tables in front of them. How blatant can you get! That’s tough for the opposition to counter. But bring to light such instances, fight it in the courts as much as that is possible.
Do bring up the issues that Sarawakians are sore with – lack of oil royalties for instance and autonomy. How much are you a prepared to go in terms of autonomy? Is a referendum a viable and legal consideration? Come out with plans to solve Sarawakian issues and they might vote more for you.
Yes, there are other voting irregularities such as gerrymandering in addition to money and goods being dished to all and sundry. How does one explain that spurt in voter turnout at the last hour or two, from 52 percent to 70 percent? What happens when ballot boxes are moved? But such things have been there all the while.
It’s an uphill battle for the opposition in Sarawak in the best of circumstances – sometimes they win more seats, sometimes less but they have never come close to winning the state. For that, the first thing that should be done is to make the opposition Sarawakian, not Peninsular Malaysian.
Then there is at least a fighting chance that one day in Sarawak there will be a change in government, which would help a change in the federal government. After all, there is nothing like the threat of a change in government, whether in Kuching or in Putrajaya, to ensure the government behaves. If governments can be changed, governments will behave and we the rakyat will be the better for it.
It is total folly to think that Peninsular Malaysian parties will capture the heart, souls and minds of Sarawakians – and that’s what’s required, nothing less – to win the Sarawak elections. The sooner the opposition realises this and behaves accordingly, the sooner a change in government becomes more possible.
P GUNASEGARAM believes Peninsular Malaysians should start paying much more attention to Sabah and Sarawak, right now the kingmakers of the federal government. Then we can all jointly decide the fate of our country for the betterment of everyone – Sarawakian, Sabahan or Peninsular Malaysian and one day become Malaysian first and foremost. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.