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The new face of Sarawak politics

By TAY TIAN YAN
Translated by DOMINIC LOH
Sin Chew Daily

The "Ubah" wind swept across the cities and towns of Sarawak, from the southern Kuching to the central Sibu and onward to Bintulu and Miri in the north.

But it failed to make its way into the Dayak interiors or the Malay/Melanau coasts.

The outcome was pretty close to what had been widely anticipated. No surprises were in store.

Although BN lost its absolute advantage, the result was within its own expectations.

While the ruling coalition has lost a big chunk of the support of the Chinese, the community makes up only about 30% of all voters and Chinese dominated seats only constitute about 20% of all the seats up for grabs. In other words, they can't tip the table in any way.

The Malay/Melanau communities have always been the most important and unshakeable source of ballots in favour of BN, and the PKR and PAS have found it almost impossible to make noteworthy inroads into these staunchly BN bastions of support. The Dayaks, meanwhile, continue to lean towards BN in pursuit of stability and continuity.

The voting pattern has effectively dissected Sarawak into two halves: On the one side urban/Chinese voters yearning for change, while on the other side the rural/bumiputra voters remain contented with the status quo.

Urban Chinese Sarawakians have made their stand very clear. They have almost denied the SUPP outright, indirectly telling everyone they get so frustrated with Taib Mahmud and are utterly disenchanted with the SUPP.

They have used their ballots to express their aspirations for the state's economic development as well as their pursuit of social justice.

The ideology championed by the DAP goes well with the requirements of the Chinese voters in the state, and the Pakatan's model offers them an alternative option.

That said, the Chinese voters will also need to face an unknown future for the choice they have made. How they are going to get adequate representation in the restructured power framework remains to be seen.

Pakatan's hopes of Ubah among the Dayaks have been dashed.

PKR has put its stake on the six Bidayuh constituencies with a possible opposition lean in the south to turn towards them, as the other Iban and Murut constituencies plagued with land controversies or religious sentiments or forced relocation due to dam construction, with the hope that tide will turn in their favour.

The Dayaks are still willing to accept their political destiny in resignation. Living in difficulty, they are focusing on their realistic needs than any vision for the future.

Only a truly powerful leader and plenty of effort can bring on any opportunity to change the political inclination of the community.

The victory of Baru Bian in Ba’Kelalan marks an important milestone for the Pakatan, but to make further advances into other Dayak domains will require a whole lot more effort than this.

The Malay/Melanau communities have always been BN's fortress although they too are encountering difficulties. But as minorities in the state, they have enjoyed an adequate sense of security thanks to the political prowess of Taib Mahmud and his PBB.

Although the election outcome is well within many people's anticipation, the political face of Sarawak has undergone a substantial change following this election.

For one, Taib's strongman status is beginning to wither.

He has lost the support of the Chinese voters, and under the pressure from the federal government, he has unveiled his retirement plans.

Sarawak is gearing itself towards the post-Taib era. If Taib bows out two years later, the new leadership is not expected to inherit the charisma of Taib, and their grip of the state administration will very likely lax, which is favourable for Sarawak as it moves towards a relatively more liberal, counter-balanced and transparent society. Nevertheless, the same may also sink the state into fiercer power struggles.

Secondly, localised politics is diminishing in Sarawak while the influences of national politics are expanding.

Najib has projected himself as the central figure during the campaign period, Taib paling far behind by comparison. Such phenomenon took place not only in the strongly anti-Taib urban communities but also among the Malays and the Dayaks.

In a similar manner, the humiliating defeat of the SUPP points to the fact that the localised Chinese political party is set to be displaced by a national political party DAP.

Sarawak's political ecosystem is evolving towards a greater degree of nationalisation. This is true not only in the state BN, but also the state opposition.

Sarawak will from this moment move towards a new pattern in which the federal political forces signified by prime minister Najib, the native political forces signified by Taib Mahmud, and the urban Chinese grassroots signified by the DAP will see themselves locked in a tussle, or counteracting one another, to spawn a completely new political ecosystem.

MySinchew 2011.04.17

 

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