On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Time for veterans to pass on the baton

LET'S be honest about how we view the outcome of the Sarawak
state elections. The Opposition rocked the Barisan Nasional by winning
nine seats – completely wiping out the coalition in the state capital
of Kuching – in the face of an almost fortress-like Barisan campaign
machinery simply because many voters believe that some Barisan leaders
have overstayed their welcome. 

It's already one week after the
polls, but not many Sarawak Barisan leaders seem ready to grab the bull
by its horns, so to speak, to address the real causes of the electoral
casualties. They want to play the nice guys by ignoring the problems
rather than risk upsetting the powerful.  

But the writing has been on the wall for the voters to see. Some
Barisan leaders chose to ignore it, believing that they could pull
through the election again with another massive win. After all,
election results in Sarawak have always been predictable. 

Or they simply believed that they are indispensable and that they
really expected the younger voters to accept their oft-repeated mantra
that their work to help the rakyat is still not completed. Or they are
still in the process of grooming their successors. 

Without doubt, the Barisan has a strong two-thirds majority.
Democratically, the opposition has not been a formidable opponent, but
given the complexity of Sarawak politics, the Barisan leaders have
plenty of reasons to be worried. 

The massive swing to the opposition is unprecedented. We are not
talking about pro-Barisan independents but real oppositionists.  

The DAP grabbed six seats, and even Parti Keadilan Nasional won one.
The number could have been higher, as the winning margin in several
areas was only in the three digits. Even PAS, which many expect to lose
its deposit in the single seat it contested, garnered over 1,000 votes.

There has been loud grumbling. Datuk Seri
Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said he sensed even before the elections that
there was "something amiss" in the state, that there was something
"quite wrong" in Sarawak. 

He said he would give the reasons to Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib
Mahmud in private. Well, that is simply because the Prime Minister is
being polite and diplomatic. Abdullah's few sentences are telling

Sarawak Barisan leaders must not just wake up, as Taib has said, but
they must snap out of their state of denial. If there is to be a real
shake-up, then they must address the reasons for the rejections. 

It is not a rejection of the Sarawak United People's Party (SUPP) alone
but a rejection of the Barisan. Painful as it may be, and not many
politicians would want to shoulder the blame, that is the crux of the
matter that must be addressed.  

For Umno leaders, they are upset with the entry of Keadilan into
Sarawak. It is a lease of life for the opposition party, which has been
struggling to keep itself intact for the past two years.  

The focus has been on the Chinese voters in urban areas but just take a
cursory look at the protest votes in the rural areas. They may not be
enough to unseat the Barisan but the trend should upset the federal
Barisan leaders.  

We have to accept that the old ways of doing things are over. Barisan
politicians cannot hope to talk about the need for development and
unity at their ceramah and believe that they have done enough.  

They must stop believing that seeing their pictures in the newspapers
would guarantee the votes. That would be simplistic. Deputy Information
Minister Datuk Zahid Hamidi correctly pointed that out immediately
after the polls. 

As the Barisan carry out their post-mortem, one glaring effect of the
polls must be the age difference of the contenders. In one corner was
the younger line-up of the opposition and in the other corner was the
very much older Barisan leaders. 

Taib, who has headed the state for 25 years, celebrated his 70th
birthday on Monday. His deputy Tan Sri Dr George Chan turns 70 this
September while another deputy, Tan Sri Alfred Jabu, is 66. 

In comparison, the voters in Kuching, mostly in their 20s to 40s, voted
in a younger set of state assemblymen – Ting Tze Fui (Merandong), 24,
Violet Yong (Pending), 29, and Chong Chieng Jen (Kota Sentosa), 35.  

It is not just about the leasehold expiration of property or the
unhappiness over the fuel price hike, but that Taib and others have led
the state for too long. They have done marvellously well but it is time
to pass on the baton. 

There is also the excessiveness. Expensive projects that serve little
purposes for the people. Why would the state spend RM300mil on a state
assembly building that meets only twice a year? It's sinful. 

But all is not lost. We must be ready to learn from history. In 1999,
PAS sprang a surprise and pulled the rug from under the Barisan in
Terengganu after 40 years, ending Mentri Besar Tan Sri Wan Mokhtar
Ahmad's 25-year reign. Wan Mokhtar lost his Chukai seat, a Barisan
stronghold, too.  

The time has come for rejuvenation and reforms in Sarawak. The people
deserve fresh input for development and the search for successors must
now be expedited. 

Surely there are enough qualified and talented people in the state to
take over. Give the younger people a chance; give Sarawak a chance.