On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Time to reflect after the polls

The latest indication was the victory of DAP in the Sibu parliamentary by-election last year. The SUPP (and Barisan Nasional’s) candidate Robert Lau Hui Yew was defeated by Wong Ho Leng.

But there were earlier warnings that showed the growing discontentment of the Chinese voters whose support was once regarded as solidly for the ruling coalition.

The first indication came in the 2006 state election when DAP won six seats, and most newspapers headlined the wins as shockers. But the strong performance of DAP in the urban seats this time should not surprise anyone, least of all Taib and SUPP president Tan Sri Dr George Chan, who has lost to DAP’s Ling Sie Kiong in Piasau.

The huge crowd at DAP ceramah coupled with the sense of political empowerment was enough to tell Taib of the dark clouds that had been formed.

DAP, with its homegrown leaders, has always been more acceptable than its Pakatan Rakyat counterparts because PKR and PAS have always been regarded as peculiar by the locals.

With their influence confined to the urban areas, Taib has tolerated this urban dissent as he is well aware that the real political “fixed deposits” were locked away in the rural areas. This would be where the Barisan strength has always remained.

DAP had targeted Taib in its campaign, knowing full well that Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has an enormously strong appeal among the Chinese. They would openly tell you that they have no argument with Barisan either. They just want Taib to retire.

They were no longer willing to listen to the oft repeated statements by Taib that he was grooming his successors. The last one where he said he had been training someone for the last 20 years only made it worse.

But strangely, despite the anger directed towards Taib, he remains an icon of Sarawak’s pluralism and religious tolerance. He has been accused of overstaying, nepotism, corruption and mismanagement but he gets top marks for open-mindedness, pluralism and religious tolerance.

Still, that was not enough for the urban voters who wanted change. They wanted to voice out loudly through the ballots what they felt was wrong with the state government.

This time, PKR also managed to make some inroads, winning three of the 49 seats they contested.

Certainly, once the analysis has been concluded, it would show that many emotive issues were either taken lightly or handled badly.

Besides over-prized white elephant projects and Barisan leaders who overstayed, there were the 2Ls – Land and Lord. In the former, dissatisfaction among Iban voters over their rights to Native Customary land was a major issue. As for the latter, the badly-handled Bahasa Malaysia Bible issue had significant impact on the people of Sarawak, where 40% of the voters are Christians.

The irony in the Bahasa Malaysia Bible issue is that Taib is probably the churches’ best listener but there were certainly plenty of thinly-veiled prayers suggesting that he and Barisan should be defeated.

Yet, Taib remains the only Muslim leader who dared to publicly declare that he sat for a Bible examination as a student and did well too.

He has also openly declared that he and his father helped raised funds for church buildings. Certainly, no Malay leader – Barisan or PR – in the peninsula would dare to do so.

At a time when many Muslim politicians seemed to shy away from attending church functions, he attended a church opening during the election campaign.

Sarawak remains the only state to have a museum showcasing the contribution of the Chinese community in the state at a prime spot. Many road signs still carry Chinese characters and in some state ministries, Chinese is widely used in the work place.

He appointed a Chinese mayor, Song Swee Guan from SUPP, for Kuching South in 1988. When SUPP lost the Padungan seat in 2006, a Chinese non-politician took over and still holds the post.

With DAP having doubled their seats from six to 12, and SUPP’s 12 reduced to six, the Chinese community may find its representation in government severely affected. That is the political reality.

The other ethnic groups are surely expected to be rewarded for their loyalty to the ruling coalition and the Cabinet line-up would have to show that.

The urban Chinese appeared to have cast their votes for DAP well aware of the consequences, with some rebutting that even when SUPP was strongly represented in government, the community’s participation in the state economy was not reflected. These were more Chinese symbolism and tokenism than real political and economic returns, they argued.

There was never any doubt from the beginning that the Barisan would retain the state with its two-thirds intact. It would only be SUPP that would be walloped.

SUPP had also never gone on the offensive after losing Sibu. In fact, it was business as usual for them after 2006, even when many were predicting their political misfortune.

Like Taib, Dr Chan should have also retired but he, too, stayed longer than he should, still talking about “unfinished projects” on the eve of election day.

Sarawakians have decided. The politicians, winners and losers, need to take a deep look at themselves.

Stop blaming the voters, the media and everyone else.