Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Sarawak awakening and lessons for BN, PR

After the elections in what was once described as BN's ‘fixed deposit’, Pakatan Rakyat seems to have gained a foothold. It is an election won in some way or another by both parties yet both have not been satisfied by the gains.

It was the strong showing of the opposition during the campaign period that managed it to get the number in the end. The announcement by Abdul Taib Mahmud to step down during mid-term, the liberalization of the printing of the Malay-language Bible, the announcement by prime minister Najib Razak that he would keep all his promises and his admission that it was not going to be easy to win elections like in the past, all point to one fact: that leaders have become more realistic and beginning to appreciate the people’s maturity.

All these materialised because of a strong opposition presence.

One important point for the BN to take home from this election is their loss of popular support and the unhappiness of the people to their 30-year rule in Sarawak. The huge crowds at Pakatan ceramahs must not be taken lightly as they are an indication of growing displeasure of the people especially in urban areas with what is going in the state: rampant corruption and abuse of power so far not checked by a weak opposition. This dissatisfaction will only grow stronger with time, thanks to a more mature populace that is internet savvy.

The whole might of the BN and government machinery had to be brought in during the final hours of the campaign to fight the winds of change that hit the Land of the Hornbill. The PM himself admitted it was the toughest election ever. The leaders of BN must admit the winds of change were only successfully thwarted with money politics, the misuse of government machinery and the media, as were the unfair restraints thrust on the opposition. It is a common knowledge among the people that large amounts of money were given out to woo voters at the eleventh hour.

These unethical practices are a fact, and the BN must realise that such tactics would work now, but may not in future.

If only more rural voters had followed their fellow Sarawakians in the urban areas, it would have been a disaster for BN. It must understand that the rural voters are not going to be 'rural' and 'ignorant' forever, even if they are forced to do so in this global world.

The Chinese factor

Another important fact revealed was the strong anti-government sentiment among the Chinese population, dealing a fatal blow to SUPP, so much so that there are fears that the party may never recover from this loss.

Najib must not heed the calls by certain extremist groups within and outside his party to neglect the Chinese community due to their snubbing of him in the recent elections. If he does it would amount to punishing the people who voted for the opposition and thus make a mockery of democratic elections.

Instead it would be wise for Najib to have a heart-to-heart talk with his Chinese colleagues in the cabinet, to find the real reasons for their loss of support and to find ways to win them over.

Having said that, it was not the Chinese alone who voted for opposition. They were just part of the urban population that expressed their dissatisfaction for the ruling party which calls for a review of the reasons for the urban swing away from the BN.

The BN must also bear in mind that it is just not the Chinese community but the Iban and other local communities who displayed more political awareness, judging by the increased votes for Pakatan.

SNAP’s failure to win a single seat whereas PKR succeeded in increasing its number of seats to three, may be an indication of increasing support of the more enlightened Ibans and other communities, to Pakatan. The BN must not forget that if there had been a leve; playing field, PR could have won many more seats.


Now that the BN has won the elections, it is time for the PM to fulfill all his promises to the people of Sarawak. These include development for the people, retirement of Taib Mahmud, the freedom to publish Bibles in Bahasa Malaysia, fighting corruption and solving the issue of ancestral lands.

These must be tackled as promised without delay. Unless these issues are dealt with to the satisfaction of the people, the winds of change will continue to gather momentum in the coming years to see the ultimate demise of the BN in Sarawak.

For the PR the election results come as moral booster in its preparation for general elections. The 31 parliamentary seats in Sarawak are now open for grabs, and unlike before, they are no more 'reserved' for BN, which now holds all but two of them.

PR has made inroads into Sarawak that was never imaginable before and if it plays its cards well the chances of capturing more parliamentary seats are bright, thereby enhancing its chances of taking over the state in the next state elections.

PR's ability

However, PR must take note of the fact that the people may be unhappy with the BN but they are not too happy with the opposition either.

Penang and Selangor may be doing well under their rule but there is much more to be done. What about the other states under their rule, Kedah and Kelantan, and Perak before their overthrow?

Taking into consideration its internal squabbles, people may yet to be convinced of PR’s ability to rule the nation if given the mandate.

Most of PR’s troubles stem from BN's efforts to overthrow PR at all costs, using the media and institutions under its absolute control.
However the leaders of Pakatan must leave no stone unturned in their efforts to convince the people of their sincerity in wanting to overcome their disputes amicably..

The component parties in PR must put aside their ideological differences and unite for the sake of the people. They must move quickly to formalise the coalition as a single entity, cement the relationship among themselves on all common grounds and agree not to exploit on their differences. They must be united on all major issues confronting the nation – corruption, power abuse and racism.

The people now are better informed, more mature and wiser to appreciate the constraints under which the opposition works. And they don't need fantastic results which they know will not be possible with a hostile federal government.

All they need is to see the formulation of sound socio-economic policies, with leaders who are committed to implement these policies as best as they can. They want to see leaders who will place the interests of the people above theirs and that of the parties to which they belong.

Change ala-BN

The BN is harping on change but there is increasing doubts about its ability to bring true reforms even if it wanted to as it does not have the will to do so. More and more people are convinced that it will only change if it is forced to sit in the opposition for at least a term.

PR must take advantage of this situation to gain the maximum support and confidence of the rakyat. It has promised many reforms and policies such as contained in its 'Orange Book', and it must convince the people that it can and will effectively implement them.

The mammoth crowds at Pakatan ceramahs during the recent Sarawak elections are indication that the people want change and are ready for it. They are convinced that after five decades of rule, the BN is incapable of change and is showing the signs of its ‘over-stay'. It does not appear to be able to check the rampant corruption, blatant abuse of power, and it openly advocates racism which threatens the well being of the nation and the people.

The people want an economically stable and peaceful country with leaders who have wisdom, foresight and who are morally righteous.

The people are willing take the calculated risk and vote for change but the PR must convince them of their capability to bring that change, not for the benefit of themselves but for that of the nation.

If they fail to do that the people will have no choice but to rely on the same tested regime of over five decades.

Dr Chris Anthony HarakahDaily

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