As the dust settles in the next few days, many were still bewildered by the results of the just concluded Sarawak state elections.
Judging by the frenzied news in the cyber-media a couple of days before the casting of votes, one would compelled to think that this year’s state election would be the end of Barisan Nasional’s tenure as the state government. One twitter account tweeted cheekily that Pehin Seri Taib Mahmud will seek asylum in Jordan after the votes have been cast.
Many were very surprised as they had expected Barisan Nasional to be ousted by the strong opposition against Taib Mahmud.
Obviously they could not fathom why Taib Mahmud, who was perceived as a corrupt leader could sustain a winning trend particularly for his own party, the Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB).
Sweeping all 35 seats contested was not an easy feat especially against the onslaught of the opposition parties from Semenanjung Malaysia namely DAP, PKR and PAS.
Now this is where all the supporters of Pakatan Rakyat, especially the media savvy ones do not understand.
All the news they received, all the feedback on sentiments they gathered from news online as well as the new political tool – twitter, are based and sourced from people in the Klang Valley.
Basically, all the feelgood feelings of toppling Taib Mahmud came about from secondary sources that may not be true. The sources are mainly from the people in Klang Valley itself. People who are not even close to the happenings on the ground.
All the stories about thousands of people coming to DAP rally the night before did not translate into votes that could send Barisan Nasional reeling in shock defeat.
So why did the majority people in Sarawak voted for Barisan Nasional?
When Sarawak became part of Malaysia in 1963, it was the 3rd lowest in terms of economical achievement among all the other states although it is the biggest state in Malaysia (slightly bigger than one third of the whole country).
The people were poor with not enough infrastructures to trigger the necessary development of economic reforms.
With more than 124,450 km in size, they were about 5,000 settlements of 30 people scattered all over Sarawak at that time. Sometimes, each of this settlement was hundreds of kilometres apart.
Most of them were within the deepest part of the forest.
What they do not have then and to some point, they do not have it now is the critical mass. Critical mass is important in order to get the best cost/benefit ratio out of any development plans being mooted out.
You cannot build one school or one hospital in each settlement of only 30 people, and build highways, shopping malls etc just to cater for each one of them. That would be disastrous in terms of costs. The price on logistics and transports would have been expensive.
Imagine building a small sundry shop in the middle of the forest so that a settlement can get a household product. A bottle of shampoo could cost a lot more just because it is expensive to deliver it there. Unless of course, the sales quantity would be huge. But the population was not big enough to warrant an all out development within the deepest reaches of Sarawak.
Thus, having a critical mass is very important in any state building processes. Now at least readers will know how difficult it was to develop a huge tract mass of land with so little people to work around with. Since population was so widely dispersed, feasible infrastructure development could not commence. That was the biggest challenge.
One of the major action that was taken was to create and develop hubs. Kuching, Sibu and Miri were developed. Job opportunities and education were provided for the people within these hubs. Children from the interior were sent to boarding schools to receive education.
Later on, Mukah, Kapit, Bintulu and Serian were developed into hubs as well.
Critical mass were created when people from the interior started to migrate into these new towns. This is important because most investment will definitely inquire about potential income. If they were enough people, demand will always be there to generate revenue.
In 1980, the poverty rate in Sarawak was slightly over 40%. In 1985, it was at 32%. By 2010, it was about 5%. By the way, based on international measurement, poverty level is a household income which falls below RM912 per month. Today, there are only 20 thousands poor households in the state out of a population of 2.4 million people.
The movement of people into even newer towns such as Lawas and Betong helped energise the whole state with economic activities. Previously during the formation of Malaysia, Sarawak was the only state without any plantation (i.e., no structured agricultural industry). Now, it has over 1 million hectares of plantation, contributing about RM9 billion of income to the state in 2010.
The GDP of 2010 was RM52 billion with the services industry leading the way at RM19 billion.
The unemployment rate has been decreased tremendously to 4.5%. At par with other states in the rest of Malaysia.
Note that with the abundance of rainforest in Sarawak, timber is not the main source of income for the state as services and manufacturing industries are the main income earners.
Many of the critics, foreign and domestic, have accused the state government of deforestation where in one instance they reckoned that by 2020, only 5% of the forest in Sarawak will be left due to logging.
The fact is, the Rio De Janeiro convention and the United Nations’ FAO stipulated that 60% of Sarawak must be conserved and reserved as natural rainforest.
Out of 12.4 million hectares of land in Sarawak, nearly 8 million hectares are rainforest reserves. Out of this 8 million hectares, 1 million hectares are for replantation. Logging activities are all done within this 1 million hectares of replanted forest. The rest remained untouched.
In most countries in Europe, only 10% to 20% of forest are left in each of those country. Sarawak is maintaining its rainforest not just because of international demands but rather, they know the importance of the rainforest. Most of the leaders are the 3rd and 4th generation of people that came out from the forest.
Does the international community think the Sarawakians do not know how to manage their own rainforest? Most of the international community themselves have not lived in forests before!
Furthermore, Sarawak is one of the 12 biodiversity hubs in the world. Therefore, it is highly imperative for the state government to preserve its assets.
Anyway, Sarawak produces 10 million cubic metres of timber every year. As comparison, Sweden produces 100 million cubic metres of timber. Hence, revenue from timber are not the main source of income for the state government.
Most of the rampant logging activities are situated in Kalimantan and at the borders of Sarawak and it is natural for these foreign ‘observers’ to arrogate the fact that since all the travesties committed by illegal loggers are happening in Kalimantan, then it might as well be happening in Sarawak too.
Cases of the killings of orang utans in Kalimantan are often blamed onto the Sarawak state government.
However, the fact remains that Sarawak boasted one of the biggest reserve forest for orang utans whereby 550,000 hectares of forest in Sebuyau and Batang Air are reserved for these primates. It is an ample space for 2,500 orang utans currently roaming around in the forest.
The above are some of the factors that only the Sarawakians would have experienced. The vast improvements in the state of Sarawak contributed to the uplifting of living conditions for the people in the state of Sarawak. The movement of people, the education opportunities of the natives, the constant development and creation of townhubs had benefited 95% of the people.
Those who remained poor, are steadily being helped bit by bit to further improve their lives. Imagine if the Kelabits remained in the jungle, Tan Sri Idris Jala could not even be the CEO of MAS.
That is why, with all the tribulations facing Taib Mahmud in the media by the opposition it could not muffle the reality of sentiments from the ground; that Barisan Nasional had done a lot for the state.
All the simplistic but baseless accusations such as ‘richest state with poor people’, ‘most corrupt leader’, ‘not much been done in the state’ did not ring a bell among the majority of voters there because simply put, they could not relate to it. Life is good so far.
The ones that were caught up with this were the people living in the Klang Valley which had access to the cyber-media. The battle of perception was fought in Klang Valley and only among the tech savvy people.
That is why, you were shocked that Barisan Nasional in Sarawak won handsomely. You are completely cut off from the ground and received only propaganda news.
But underneath the victory, lies a great peculiarity – the absence of chinese votes. The majority of chinese did not vote for Barisan Nasional.
They were swayed by the politics of racism brought about by the DAP. The spirit of tolerance and moderation are not inculcated among the chinese population in the major towns. A similar approach from the 1969 general elections strategy of DAP.
DAP blatantly used race and religion in order to garner votes from its targeted audience; the chinese. Instill hatred towards their benefactors. Bite the hand that fed them all these years. It is okay to do this because under the spirit of 1Malaysia, the hand will continue to fulfill their demands due to some misplaced generosity.
Use race to get the chinese votes, and use religion to get Iban votes. That was the approach.
The chinese particularly have this perception that they should vote for opposition so that they could have a bigger voice through an aggressive minority force. They will always get what they wanted even if they do not vote for Barisan Nasional anyway.
There are views that the Sarawak chinese must be dealt with a reprimanding action plan. The most obvious would be the non inclusion of the party representing the community in the state cabinet.
It is a simple matter of physics. For any action, there will be reaction. In other democratic countries in the world, for instance the UK or United States, if the people voted for one party, they will receive exactly what the party had promised them.
In the case of Barisan Nasional, the promise was further development and continuous representation of each community within the coalition.
If the chinese have made it clear that most of them do not like Barisan Nasional, then why should the new coalition post state election have any representation from their community?
The DAP had always propagated the term ‘meritocracy’ in their racist campaigns to criticise the needs based policy we call the NEP. So let’s put this to the test and apply meritocracy along the lines of the voting results.
Do the chinese merit any ministerial posts?
Is this the classic case of having its cake and eat it too?
Is this particular view unfair to the chinese there?
In some extent, I do not agree with the Barisan Nasional Youth head, Khairy Jamaluddin when he said that Barisan Nasional must be fair to everyone even when the majority of chinese in Sarawak did not vote for them. Why should you sacrifice further state resources to these people when there are many other deserving ones who had gladly voted for you? Crucially, these people needed more helped than the better off town dwellers who did not vote for Barisan Nasional.
Any simple comparison on the per capita income will do. Do we need to further give in to their demands?
The most the chinese could get out of this state election is a representative adviser without any authoritative powers. The position will be highly symbolic. A stark reminder of the effects of their voting powers.
Is this unfair?
The biggest challenge lies in the SUPP.
The keyword here is moderation. SUPP must re-educate their supporters on the politics of moderation. Barisan Nasional has always uphold this key element in their inter party relations and in their policies.
Moderation is what Pakatan Rakyat do not have. PAS is very extreme in their Islamic approach. DAP is very extreme in their racial demands and approach. Hindraf is very extreme in their politics of hooliganism. And PKR is extremely bereft of any direction and policies.
Barisan Nasional do not condone any extremism. It lies in the centre of the spectrum. That is why, all 14 component parties within it can work together. There are no extremes.
Pakatan Rakyat with just 3 parties seemed to be imploding from the inside at any minute because of the elements of extremism found in them. That is why until now, they could not officially register Pakatan Rakyat.
Until now, it remains as a shadowy, flip flopping, self destructive, loose coalition of parties bent on achieving power without any strong foundation other than spewing hatred and racism in every direction.
That is why, the level headed people of Sarawak voted for Taib Mahmud and Barisan Nasional.
In other words for the Pakatan supporters, better the devil you know than the angel you don’t. At least the ‘devil’ built more goodwill than the ‘angel’ could.