Monday, May 17, 2010

Sibu's mini tsunami

The political tsunami reached the shores of Sarawak a bit late - two years' late - but some observers and the Opposition leaders would say it's better late than never.

The slim victory by DAP in Sibu - the Pakatan Rakyat candidate Wong Ho Leng polled 18,845 votes against Barisan Nasional's Robert Lau's 18,447 votes - was interpreted by some observers as the March 2008 political tsunami having made its way to Sarawak, the bastion of Barisan power.

Other observers say it is a case of the worst kind of divisive racial politics from peninsular Malaysia that has been exported to Sarawak.

They say that Sarawak has always been a racially harmonious state with Muslims eating halal food in the same coffeeshops that sell pork kolo noodles to non-Muslim customers and nobody kicks up a fuss.

But the peninsular politicians have exported their Muslim vs non-Muslim dichotomy to Sarawak and exploited issues of religion like Pas' aim to have an Islamic state and the court's decision on the usage of 'Allah', the Arabic word for god, by the Catholic Church's magazine. Allegations of Bibles being seized and burnt were also exploited by the Opposition.

The observers also say that the Chinese voters in Sibu are more sophisticated now and politics of development no longer infuence them and they are now more concerned about national issues like freedom of worship, corruption, equality and human rights.

Another factor that influenced the Sibu by-election was the Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Taib Mahmud, leader of the Parti Pesaka Bumiputra Bersatu which represents the minority Melanau and Malay Muslims, who has turned out to be a liability in this by-election and he was notably absent from several ceramahs held by top Barisan (and Umno) leaders.

Allegations about his family's wealth and influence were openly discussed in coffeeshops (where Muslims ate their halal nasi campur and non-Muslims ate minced pork kolo mee next to each other) and ceramahs and Barisan seemed unable to respond to these allegations (simply because it is true that Taib is rich and influential).

It would appear that the Chinese in Sarawak, just like those in peninsular Malaysia, are loyally pro-Opposition while the younger generation of Sarawakians, especially the Ibans, are anti-establishment. This potent combination resulted in a mini tsunami that pushed DAP's Wong to the finishing line just 398 votes ahead of Barisan's Robert Lau.

The shocking results of the Sibu by-election will have great repercussions because it means Barisan, especially the Sarawak Barisan leaders, will have to relook and rethink their strategies since there will have to be State elections by May next year.

Though Barisan leaders can say it is just one Parliamentary seat that fell, it could be the the first wave of a more powerful and destructive tsunami if the leaders fail to take note of the reasons for the defeat.

As for Taib, he must realise that despite his wealth and power, he is all too human and the sun may be setting on the empire of the White Rajah. Just like one or two other leaders in the peninsula, Taib could be overstaying his welcome and it is perhaps time to pass the baton of power on to a younger generation of leaders, hopefully not from his family.

A dynasty is possibly the worst thing to happen to Barisan in Sarawak.

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