SARAWAK cannot be called a “safe deposit” state for the Barisan Nasional in this general election. Political awareness is growing at a very fast pace in Sarawak.
In urban areas, there is effectively an acceptance of a two-party system. In rural areas, it is beginning to dawn on voters that the Government must not necessarily be synonymous with Barisan.
Voters like Liza Lati, a former civil servant, from Kampung Taee, about 60km from Kuching, strongly believes that it is alright for her to seek help from DAP’s candidate in the constituency.
Not having water is worse than not having electricity, Liza told me this week.
“At least when there is no electric and it is dark, you can still light a candle. But when there is no clean water supply, what can you do? For most people, when they turn their taps, they expect water.
“In my kampung (village) of about 500 families, sometimes there’s only air when we turn the tap. Still, we get water bills,” she said.
The DAP’s campaign trail in this semi-rural constituency has attracted favourable response. Turnout is surprisingly good, averaging at least a few hundreds of people at each rally, even in the most rural of setting like Tebedu, a frontier along the Sarawak-West Kalimantan border.
Opposition’s candidate Edward Luwak said rural politics had been dominated by native land controversies and the lack of development.
“To rural people who think they have witnessed development, I always ask them: ‘Where are your kids? Are they working far away in Kuching, Sibu, Peninsular Malaysia or Singapore? Why are your kids not working in the place where they grew up?’,” he said in a recent interview.
“My point to them is that there has not been equitable development. Are roads good enough?
“Roads are such a basic necessity, they are the impetus of development and yet we have shoddy ones lining the rural areas.”
Credible rural candidates in the opposition’s camp is becoming the norm these days.
Edward is not only a former Bintulu district officer but was also a handpicked member of Datuk Seri Idris Jala’s tightly-knit team at Shell.
Barisan has been unable to tarnish his reputation, except for exposing that he was once an SUPP member (which if you think about it actually makes SUPP look even worse).
“I know a lot of outsiders think Barisan will have a walkover in rural areas but it will not be that easy this time. You’ll see,” Edward said.
Universiti Malaysia Sarawak’s political communications and history lecturer Dr Jeniri Amir has named Baram, Hulu Rajang, Saratok, Lubok Antu, Mas Gading and Mukah as grey areas for Barisan.
On Baram, he said the proposed dam would not work in favour to Barisan because of the state government’s handling of Bakun and Murum resettlements.
Jeniri said some 20,000 residents in upper Baram could be affected by the proposed dam and that in such instances, the word “development” would not be viewed positively.
Barisan’s other weakness, he added, was in-fighting. Saratok, he said, was an example of party disunity that could cripple the local election machinery.
But it is in the urban areas where Barisan is facing the biggest threat from the Opposition.
Since the 2006 state elections, SUPP has been sliding in popularity. Few believe the party, which is the oldest in Sarawak, has managed to reverse the trend.
Betting rings have pegged SUPP Youth chief Tan Kai’s chances of defeating DAP’s Chong Chieng Jen at one-to-10.
The problem with SUPP is that it is still plagued by infighting, with an aging party leadership and dogged by perceptions of corruption.
Worse still, in the days since nomination, SUPP’s campaign has been blighted by controversies arising from its Wanita chief Amy Tnay ill-judged tirade against DAP and PAS.
In a video clip just one minute and 37 seconds long, Tnay made religious insinuations and equated returning pro-opposition overseas voters to a “toilet act”.
Overnight, Tnay earned herself the nickname Kak Angry among netizens and has become a liability to Barisan — all by her own doing. Instead of courting returning voters, she is alienating them.
For Barisan leaders to continue tagging Sarawak and Sabah as “safe deposits” is to misread the fast changing realities on the ground. With 11 more days to go till polling, Barisan leaders might find their deposit margins severely diminished.