Search This Blog

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Sarawak's election ...a thirst for autonomy

The political depression of West Malaysia has sunken to a stage where politicians are fighting tooth and nail to bring down their rivals but nothing is done at the end of the day. So we have to set our sights now on the state election in Sarawak with the hope it can break the impasse here.

But, separated by the expansive South China Sea, few on this side of the country know much about what's happening in Sarawak. Over here swords are drawn and curses are hurled practically on a daily basis while in Kuching, chief minister Adenan is seen singing at carnival-like ceramahs. What's this all about? You might ask.

West Malaysians have little knowledge how their compatriots in Sarawak view the 1MDB scandal, RM2.6 billion donation, GST and a host of other issues. They also have not much idea how the people in the Land of Hornbills perceive the state ban slapped on West Malaysian politicians.

I used to have close-up observations of the Sarawak state election although that was quite some years ago. Moreover I was mostly moving around in urban constituencies and never actually set foot on the interiors.

There are some fundamental differences between the West and East Malaysian politics. First of all, owing to historical background, Sarawakians generally perceive they co-established Malaysia with Sabah and West Malaysia and as such, the state's big-brother party PBB treats the ruling parties in West Malaysia as "equal partner", unlike other BN components submissive to Umno. As if that is not enough, PBB has been very persistent in not allowing Umno to gain a foothold in Sarawak.

Understandably the state is fearless in criticizing federal government policies, and is the first to recognize the UEC certificate. Sarawak's political parties and the people in general are increasingly concerned about autonomy and are mulling to gazette July 22 independence day as a public holiday in the state.

Ethnic and religious policies ubiquitous in West Malaysia are non-existent in Sarawak.

Because of these factors, Adenan's people-friendly policies are not expected to change course even after the election, because he doesn't have to be wary about the rightists and conservatives, and make drastic turns just to please them.

That said, Sarawak politics is not above West Malaysia's, and there are apparent limitations and weaknesses to it.

BN has good reasons to label Sarawak a fixed deposit state. When the anti-establishment sentiment was so powerful in 2008 and 2013 that BN's parliamentary two-thirds majority was denied, the state BN could still cling to 30 and 25 out of 31 parliamentary seats up for grabs in the two elections. The opposition could only manage to capture a handful of urban constituencies in more recent years but is totally powerless to register its presence in rural areas.

The territorial expanse of the state makes a formidable natural barrier that seals the interiors well within BN's stronghold. Given the fact that 57 state seats are predominantly indigenous constituencies, it is unlikely the state administration will ever change after the election. This explains why Adenan seems to take the election so easily.

Nevertheless, since the 11th state election takes place after the implementation of GST and the revelation of major scandals in the likes of 1MDB and RM2.6 billion donation, it offers a glimpse into how Sarawakians feel about these issues.

The latest Merdeka Center poll shows that Sarawakians are most concerned about rising cost of living, economic difficulties and employment, among other things. Of the 815 respondents, 33% are worried about the economy, 81% about the skyrocketing goods prices while 45% admit they are facing economic problems.

This illustrates the fact that Sarawakians are also feeling the pinch of rising cost of living stemming from the GST implementation, just like the West Malaysians. If the poll is accurately reflecting how the people feel, BN may see some of its support in urban and semi-rural areas thinned down

The poll collected mainly through telephone interviews has not revealed how many among the respondents are from urban or rural constituencies. Those living in the interiors are regular recipients of government aid and are unlikely to feel the pressure to the same extent. These people are also largely in the dark over the 1MDB and political donation scandals.

In short, the results of the upcoming election will not be much different from the last one but because the number of seats has increased, BN's results may look a little more presentable this time. Given the powerful support for Najib from Umno leaders, it is unlikely the impact will be felt there.

One thing Sarawakians should take into serious consideration is that the state will never be able to avert the influences of federal policies and is squarely impossible to be completely severed from the federal government even though it may enjoy a little more autonomy in future.

The Merdeka Center poll also highlights the fact that some 54% of respondents feel Sarawak has not been accorded its deserved treatment and should therefore harness its "fixed deposit" status to try to influence the national policies.

While Sarawak's politics can be quite different from West Malaysia's, Sarawakians must be insistent in their quest for greater autonomy, and let their voices be heard over here.


No comments:

Post a Comment