Saturday, April 16, 2011

Opposition will have reason to celebrate

KUCHING: Going into the Sarawak election today, one senses an uncertainty as mysterious as the morning mist hanging over the hills fringing Kuching city.

There are 71 constituencies spread across Sarawak, the bulk of which lies in the hinterland shrouded by this mist.
Sarawak’s remotest point is in the Ba’ Kelalan constituency, home to the Orang Ulu which comprise the Lun Bawang, Kayan, Kenyan, Kelabit and Penan communities.
The Orang Ulu together with the Bidayuh, Iban and Melanau communities form the Dayaks, Sarawak’s majority population. The rest of the state’s populace is made of Chinese (26%),  Malays (21%) and others.
In this politically defining elections, the Dayaks are being wooed and cajoled into playing a decisive role as a record-breaking 213 candidates, many of whom are political greenhorns, wrestle it out in straight and multi-cornered fights in the 71 constituencies.
In the ring are candidates from Pakatan Rakyat coalition – PKR, DAP and PAS – as well as Sarawak Nasional Party (Snap), Parti Cinta Malaysia (PCM) and independents.
Important to note here also is that over 150,000 ‘thinking Dayaks’, as described by Snap advisor Daniel Tajem,  are working elsewhere and while many have been returning home in the last few days the exact numbers are not known.
It’s been an historical election campaign, liberally laced with mystique in the form of Taib’s bomoh, Stella, thrills (Barisan Nasional’s covert operations), chases (the FRU’s presence) and drama (exciting ceramahs) akin to a Chinese opera or Bollywod movie minus the songs.
Sharing the lead roles in this homeground blockbuster is Chief Minister Taib Mahmud, Umno president Najib Tun Razak and PKR de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim.
In effect the Sarawak election has been a proxy fight of sorts between personalities Najib and Anwar,  Umno and PKR, with Taib being the catalyst.
Unfortunately Taib has also been Najib’s greatest liability going into the state polls.
For both Najib and Anwar, the stakes are high. The outcome of the Sarawak election will have national implications.
If BN loses its two thirds majority here today, Putrajaya becomes instantly within Pakatan’s reach.
Najib pleads

When Anwar met the Sarawakians on Thursday night in Kuching he called for the people to vote for change.
When Prime Minister Najib met a similar but smaller crowd, he sent out an impassioned plea to give Barisan Nasional a second chance, admiting to weaknesses in the state’s administration and pledging billions of ringgit for Sarawak development.
He called on Sarawakians to ‘trust’ him to make things right for the people in the state but he fell short of indicating a time frame for Taib to step down.
In the run-up to the Sarawak polls, corruption and native customary rights (NCR) land grabs as well Taib’s fabulous wealth have been core issues flogged by the opposition.
Alongside these issues have been Sarawak United Peoples Party’s (SUPP) business monopoly and its failure to safeguard Chinese interest in Sarawak as well as the state’s stand on the AlKitab issue and religious freedom.
But whatever the outcome today, there will be much to celebrate in the opposition camp.
For the first time in history the opposition will have more that the existing eight voices in the Sarawak Legislative Assembly.
As at 6pm yesterday, the Pakatan coalition was poised to win at least 17 seats.
The more brazen political observers, having seen and experienced the more than 30,000 strong cheering crowd at DAP’s final ceramah in Stutong last night, have dared to review the numbers, upping it to as much as 23.
“It won’t be a tsunami (because BN will still get their two-thirds), but it will be an expensive earthquake,” said a lady supporter attending the ceramah last nite to a question posed by FMT.
The run-up

On Wednesday morning an Umno insider’s SMS to FMT indicated that Umno intelligence had conceded 29 seats to Pakatan which would effectively end BN’s aspiration for a two thirds majority.
Fearful of a fall, the insider said Umno campaigners had been directed to target specific seats and flood the rural areas with ‘essential necessities.’
According to the insider some RM30 million would make its way to rural and semi-rural voters on Thursday and Friday.
Yesterday morning state PKR vice-president Granda Aing told FMT that each household in Tasik Biru constituency, where incumbent Peter Nansian is defending his seat, had received RM1,000 each and the community chief RM6,000.
“It’s already happening…we are receiving ground reports of large amounts being dispensed. In some places the amount is much more,” he said on sidelines of a press conference by Anwar.
At the press conference Anwar had warned voters to be ‘careful and alert.’
“We have told our people in the longhouses and outskirts to be wary of BN’s gifts,” he said adding his concern over last-minute tactics by BN to secure a victory.
High on the list of tactics is the ‘unexplainable’ additional 87,000 odd new voters.
According to Anwar over the last few days, planeloads of army personnel have been arriving in Sarawak.
“They say its for security reasons… if so, why are they plainclothed,” he asked, adding that reports indicated some 20,000 of them had arrived in time for the election.
This aside there is the other issue of postal votes.
In an unprecedented move the Election Commission has allowed postal voting to be extended to tomorrow.
Shocked observers have described the EC’s decision as putting in place a ‘Plan B’ in the event BN loses.
There are 18,363 postal voters in Sarawak.
High cost to Taib

The 2011 state election has opened the doors to a new realisation in Sarawak, one might even call it a new dawn.
A two-thirds or ‘overwhelming’ victory for BN today would have come at an embarrassing cost to Taib, PBB and SUPP.
People would have voted for Najib not Taib. People would have voted for Umno not Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB).
Najib saved Taib and a drowning Sarawak BN coalition when he decided to park himself and his entourage in Sarawak.
And for that Taib will have to pay the price in more than one way.
Speculations are rife that Taib  would now be compelled to name a successor who is Umno-friendly and review his stand over the Federal Government’s long-held interest in obtaining Bintulu and turning it into a Federal Territory like Labuan.
Heading Taib’s list for a successor is his Minister of Planning and Resource Management II Awang Tengah Ali Hassan.
But sources to close to PBB here say that Umno would ‘prefer’ to have Sarawak Housing Minister Abang Johari Tun Openg, which perhaps also explains why BN’s final ceramah last night, which hosted former premier Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin and the rest of the Umno delegation, was held in Kampung Ajibal Abol in Abang Johari’s constituency.
In exacting blood, Umno would have achieved its aim to finally push through Taib’s gilded gates into the state.
Already a ‘cawangan’ is in place in Kuching, much to the consternation of some Malays here who have found the whole election campaign and Umno’s intrusion into Sarawak politics embarrasing.
According to a PBB source Umno-BN had ‘played dirty.’
“Umno saw an opportunity here and they stepped in and took control. They showed up PBB and SUPP’s weaknesses. They embarassed us,” said the source.
End of the read for SUPP
Meanwhile political observers here have buried SUPP.
“SUPP is finished just like Gerakan in the peninsular was wiped out in the 2008 GE,” noted an observer.
In the bag for the opposition, political observers here say, are Padungan, Pending, Batu Lintang, Kota Sentosa, Repok, Bukit Assek, Pelawan, Kidurong, Piasau and Pujut.
“Other likely seats are Ba Kelalan, Layar, Krian and Pelagus,” said an observer adding that Bawang Assan, Dudong, and Meradong were also to be watched.


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