Monday, April 22, 2013

GE13: Will Global Witness dent BN's armour in Sarawak?

By Stephanie Sta Maria

PETALING JAYA (APRIL 22): When Global Witness exposed the controversial wheeling and dealing by Sarawak's most powerful family, the Opposition rejoiced in what finally appeared to be cracks in the walls of the BN fortress.

The 11-minute video covertly captured Sarawak chief minister, Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud's, two cousins - sisters Fatimah and Norlia Abdul Rahman Yakub - negotiating a reportedly corrupt land deal with an undercover Global Witness journalist.

Pakatan Rakyat has naturally included the video in its election campaigns there and has distributed approximately 10,000 copies in different languages throughout the state.

According to PKR's state election operation director, See Chee How, the video has made a strong impact on Sarawakians, especially the Dayaks, whom he said are seething over the insult of being labeled as "squatters".
The video sparked a protest in Kuching two weeks ago by 300 Ibans, Bidayuhs and Malays who demanded that the sisters apologise for their derogatory statements.

"Radio Free Sarawak has also made a huge impact by carrying news of this video," See "BN is in for a lot of uncertainty and surprises."

"We saw big wins and felt a stronger sense of support in the 2011 state elections but the question is whether it will be enough to unseat BN."

If Pakatan is depending on Global Witness for a leg up, then Professor Jayum anak Jawan believes that they could end up bitterly disappointed.

The Sarawak native and Deputy Dean of Universiti Putra Malaysia's Faculty of Human Ecology explained that video would only impact the urbanites and even then, not as heavily as Pakatan hopes since the allegations have been heard before.

He also said that urban voters have already decided where their votes will go and the video would merely serve to reinforce that decision.

Jayum emphasized that the diverse political patterns between the urban and rural voters must be considered before drawing conclusions on how their votes will be affected.

"Rural voters are more dependent on small handouts and are removed from national issues," he stated.

"And since the key Dayak leaders are not with Pakatan, there isn't a good base from which it can attempt to 
penetrate the rural communities."

But Jayum noted that what has really struck the hearts of Sarawakians, more than the Global Witness video, was the Lahad Datu incursion and the Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) on illegal immigrants in Sabah.
"Sarawak's biggest concern is autonomy and that has been challenged by the RCI and Lahad Datu incident," he stated.  "Sarawak is closely watching."

Sarawak, which BN has dubbed its "fixed deposit", was spared the political tsunami of 2008 and steadily delivered 30 of 31 seats to keep BN firmly in power.

DAP won its second seat in the Sibu by-election in 2010 and made encouraging headway during the state election by sweeping 15 of the 71 seats.

The party expects a better performance in GE13 and to make deeper inroads into the rural heartlands.

"We are definitely more prepared this time," See stated. "In fact we were prepared all of last year for the elections to be held in the next week!"

When asked to name the hot seats, he listed Hulu Rajang and Baram but added that they were also the most challenging in terms of travel distance and size.

See is the current Batu Lintang assemblyman and contested for the Stampin parliamentary seat in 2008. He however doesn't expect to be fielded this time.

Jayum, meanwhile, said that Sarawakians were more invested in state elections than national elections as the latter is deemed to be remote from them.

"State elections are about the configuration of state power and leadership," he pointed out. "Sarawakians are more interested in who controls the state than who represents them at Federal level."

He further explained that while Sarawakians recognised the importance of delivering seats, they were resigned to the fact that no number of seats would change their position in the Federal government.

Jayum described the general election in Sarawak is an "awakening" that will bring hope to rural voters by showing them that they have alternatives when it comes to choosing their representative in Parliament.

But to him, an ideal outcome would be a winning coalition with a less than two-third majority.

"That is my only hope," he said. "A simple majority is better no matter which side wins."

"Two-thirds will be too powerful and will make them forget that they are working for the people."

~ The Edge Malaysia

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