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Lessons for the opposition from Sarawak polls

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Win the hearts of these people first before you walk into their areas with your loud speakers and banners, advises W H Cheng.

The recent Sarawak state election on 7 May 2016 has exposed the true colours of the opposition.

They can only expect worse come the 14th General Election if the bickering parties do not buck up and patch things up.

The Sarawak Barisan Nasional won handsomely, getting 72 out of 82 seats in the enlarged state legislative assembly.

The opposition Pakatan Harapan suffered a major setback, winning only 10 seats with the DAP getting seven, down from 12 in 2011, PKR retaining its three seats, and Amanah finishing empty-handed.

Opposition parties outside of Pakatan such as Pas were also wiped out.

So, was it because of the Adenan factor? Some say it worked, but it certainly was not the only reason for the swing back to BN.

The fact is that BN won with a landslide because the field was gravely uneven: the ruling state coalition enjoyed all the advantages in terms of finance, logistics, mainstream media, communication channels and of course immigration control.

We also have to acknowledge that Sarawak BN has been in power for decades and has tightened its grip over every single corner of the state.

The return of the urban votes to the BN was also partly due to Sarawak Chief Minister and state BN chairman Adenan Satem’s hint that a Chinese would be appointed as one of three deputy chief ministers if candidates from the Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP) were voted back into the state legislative assembly. (In the end, no Chinese was made a deputy chief minister.)

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Besides that, the state BN had also used its administrative powers to forbid the entry of opposition campaigners into many villages, longhouses and other rural areas, on the grounds of “security and unity preservation”.

Another significant factor was the lower voter turnout, including fence-sitters who stayed away, which worked to Adenan’s advantage.

According to the Election Commission (EC), the voter turnout was only 70 per cent of the 1,109,795 registered voters. This was sharply lower than that in the 2011 state elections which saw a turnout of more than 80 per cent.

One reason for the low turnout could be that some BN supporters, especially those in the rural areas, skipped polling in the belief that BN would form the government anyway.

But the more pertinent scenario seemed to be a boycott by many opposition supporters who were unhappy with the way opposition parties were flexing their muscles against one another.

The continuous bickering between the DAP and the PKR led to many unnecessary multi-cornered contests in the state polls. Such bickering in fact killed the chance of Pakatan Harapan even before nomination day.

A costly affair for the opposition

When the opposition parties won big in the last state elections in 2011, the DAP and the PKR knew very well it was because the electorate had given them the mandate in the hope that they would build on the momentum to defeat the state BN in the next round.

Instead of being motivated to strengthen their unity, the opposition parties became more fragmented and self-centred. The results of the recent polls spoke volumes.

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The DAP was overly ambitious, trying to venture forcefully into areas and cultures which it was unfamiliar with, while the PKR was too impatient in wanting to go all out, claiming it was in the right position to represent the natives in the state.

Pas was thrashed by voters for being religiously extreme while Amanah made its debut in an unconvincing manner.

Apart from that, until today Pakatan Harapan has not demonstrated any goodwill towards local opposition parties in the Land of the Hornbills by allowing them to join the opposition coalition at the state level.

Given the BN’s firm grip on the state, it is an uphill task for the opposition to penetrate the Sarawak heartland.

Pakatan Harapan parties should reach out to local opposition parties such as Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak-Baru (PBDS Baru), Parti Reformasi Negeri (Star), Parti Ekonomi Rakyat Sarawak Bersatu (PERSB), Sarawak Workers’ Party (SWP), Parti Bumi Kenyalang (PBK) and remnants of the once powerful Sarawak National Party (Snap).

If Pakatan Harapan had worked in unity with these local opposition parties, costly multi-cornered contests could have been avoided and these opposition parties could have made some inroads.

In other words, the opposition paid the price for being impatient, greedy and arrogant.

Another thing that the opposition parties should have learned and analysed is the fact that Sarawak BN has long kept many parts of the heartland away from development, education, technology and many basic facilities.

We can attribute the BN’s continual victory in the state to the lack of understanding and concern among the majority of Sarawak natives on issues of governance.

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The rural majority are generally not interested in any political rhetoric. They are only concerned with basic amenities like water and electricity supply, roads and other infrastructure.

Win the hearts of these people first before you walk into their areas with your loud speakers and banners.

Source: Berita Daily

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