Monday, April 25, 2011

Lessons from the tenth Sarawak Elections

The election that no party lost

The much awaited tenth Sarawak State elections are now over and the Barisan Nasional(BN),as expected, has retained its rule with its two-thirds majority. However its popular support has dropped slightly and the opposition, Pakatan Rakyat(PR), seems to have gained foot in the state which use to be described as the ‘fixed deposit’ for BN.As such it is an election which both parties had won in some way or another but a win which neither parties are really satisfied with.

However it was the strong showing of the opposition during the campaign period that managed to get a number of intended results. The announcement by Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud the Chief Minister to step down during mid-term, the liberalization of the printing of bibles, the announcement by the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak that he will keep all his promises and his admission that it is not going to be easy to win elections like before are testimony that the leaders are becoming more realistic and beginning to appreciate the people’s maturity. All these materialized due to the strong opposition presence.

The important point for the BN to take home from this election is their loss of popular support and the general unhappiness of the people to their rule of 30 years in Sarawak. The huge crowds at Pakatan ceramah must not be taken lightly as it is an indication of growing displeasure of the people especially in urban areas with what is going in the state, the rampant corruption and abuse of power unable to be checked by a weak opposition. This dissatisfaction will only grow stronger with time due 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 dying hours of the campaign to fight the winds of change that was poised to 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 and 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 the voters at the eleventh hour.

These unethical practices must be admitted as a fact and the BN must realize that such tactics could have worked now but are not going to do so in the future. If only more of the rural voters follow their fellow Sarawakians in 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 all the time even if they are forced to do so in this global world.

Another important fact that was revealed was the strong anti-government sentiments among the Chinese population which dealt a fatal blow to SUPP and 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 own party to neglect the Chinese community as it did not support him in the recent elections. If he does it would amount to punishing the people who voted for the opposition which would 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 positive ways to win them over.

Furthermore it was not the Chinese alone who voted for opposition. The Chinese were 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 indigenous communities too have become more politically ‘awakened’ as the their votes for Pakatan have also significantly increased. SNAP’s failure to win a single seat whereas PKR has tripled its strength to 3 may be an indication of increasing support of the more elite Ibans and other indigenous groups to Pakatan. The BN must not forget if the Pakatan had a more even playing field, they could have won many more seats.

Now that BN has won the elections it is time for the PM to fulfill all his promises to the people of Sarawak. Development for the people, retirement of Taib Mahmud, the freedom to publish bibles in Bahasa Malaysia, fighting corruption and seizure of ancestral land are some of the issues that 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 gain greater momentum in the coming years that will see the demise of the BN in Sarawak.

For the PR the election results come as moral booster for the contest in the subsequent federal elections that are to be held soon. The 31 parliamentary seats in the state are now open for grabs unlike before when they were virtually reserved (safe seats) for BN, which now holds 29 of them. Pakatan has made inroads into Sarawak that was never imaginable before and if it plays its cards well the chances of capturing more parliament seats are very bright and if it does that it will enhance its chances of taking over control of the state in the next state elections.

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? The people are yet to be convinced of PR’s capability to rule the nation if given the mandate taking into consideration its internal squabbles and scandals of its leaders.

Most of PR’s troubles may be due to the making of BN that is bent on overthrowing Pakatan at all costs with the media and institutions over which it has absolute control. However the leaders of Pakatan must leave no stones unturned in their efforts to convince the people of their sincerity in wanting to overcome their disputes amicably so as to be better able to serve the people if and when when asked to do so by them.

The component parties of the PR must put aside their ideological differences and unite for the sake of the people. They must move quickly to formalize 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 all they need is not 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 and give 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.

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 a term. Pakatan must take advantage of this situation to gain the maximum support and confidence of the rakyat. The PR has promised many reforms and policies such as the Buku Jinga for the benefit of the people but it must convince the people that it can and will effectively implement them without fear or favor.

The mammoth crowds at Pakatan ceramahs during the recent Sarawak elections are an indication that the people want change and are ready for it. They are convinced that after 5 decades of continuous rule, the BN is incapable of change and is showing the signs of its ‘over-stay syndrome’. It does not appear to be able to check the rampant corruption, blatant abuse of power and openly advocated racism that are threatening the well being of the nation and the people.

The people want an economically stable and peaceful country with leaders with great wisdom, foresight and 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 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.


No comments:

Historic Parliament after historic GE14

  New Parliament symbol of hope and democracy Congratulations to all our newly elected MPs. The first session of the 14th ...