Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Barisan will eventually win the Sarawak race

The Barisan Nasional bigwigs are in Sarawak campaigning like hell to stem the tide of rising dissent.

If the number of people attending the ceramahs held by Pakatan Rakyat leaders is a yardstick, Pakatan is ahead by a more than a mile.

Pakatan has successfully exploited the issues that have been bothering Sarawakians - and Malaysians in the peninsula - for many years and which nobody in the government of the day had bothered to solve, and perhaps made worse.

The first issue is that of Christians feeling that their right to freedom of worship as enshrined in the Constitution has been slowly but surely eroded by a ruling coalition that was built on racial and religious lines. That the dominant party, Umno, has pushed its ketuanan Melayu ideology, which is intertwined with the so-called supremacy of the Arabic religion called Islam, has only made the situation worse.

Some 50 per cent of Sarawakians are Christians and they have practised their religion for decades, if not centuries, without any problems and they have been using the Malay Bible and praying to 'Allah' (the Arabic - not Malay - word for 'God') without any issues till the "Semenanjung" (Peninsular) politicians, especially from Umno, stepped in and caused disharmony and anger with their bigotted policies like impounding Malay Bibles and trying to prevent non-Muslims from using the word 'Allah', the Arabic (not Malay) word for 'God'.

The politicians did not expect something miraculous to happen - a religious revival. As a reaction to official persecution, Christians in Sarawak have rediscovered and renewed their faith in Allah.

The Christian revival took the Barisan Nasional government by surprise, judging by their knee-jerk reactions by coming out quickly with amicable solutions so soon after both the Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister denied that the Malay Bible issue had been resolved. The about-turn was quite surprising given the political cost involved regarding Umno's standing among the Malay-Muslim voters.

Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud said the stamping of serial numbers on Bahasa Malaysia Bibles was sacrilegious and a "very stupid thing to do". Here you have the Chief Minister of a State of Malaysia, whose political party is part of the ruling coalition, stating that the Federal Government is doing a very stupid thing.

I have never encountered such a peculiar situation before.

Now, the Prime Minister himself wants to meet Christian leaders before the Sarawak State election takes place on Saturday probably to pacify and reassure them.

The other issue exploited by Pakatan is the Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud himself. Rumours of his immense wealth have been circulating for years and the Sarawakian press has been muzzled for a long time, but in the age of the Internet, news - accurate or otherwise - cannot be suppressed even by someone as rich and powerful as Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud.

After all the dirt that has been smeared on Taib Mahmud, he now appears to be more of a liability to Barisan. And that there are conflicting reports on when exactly he would step down have not helped to endear him to the voters, especially those in urban areas.

So what is likely to happen this Saturday?

The way I see it, Barisan has more or less lost the Chinese and urban voters. DAP will win more seats at the expense of SUPP. But the voters in rural/upriver areas - where access to Internet gossip is limited and where politics of development (i.e. cash handouts for local projects) still works - will continue to back Barisan which will mean that despite huge crowds at Pakatan rallies, Barisan will eventually win the race - perhaps not by a mile.

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