PKR deputy president Azmin Ali is the latest opposition campaigner to be blocked in what is turning out to be the most farcical election campaign the state has ever seen.
Yesterday, a clearly riled up Tasik Gelugor Pas information chief Abdul Rahman Kasim informed me that several Pas campaigners from Penang, Kedah and Perlis had been barred from entry into Sarawak in recent days. Today, he informed me again that a few more Pas campaigners have been barred. (Rahman believes they don’t like Pas folk with skull-caps or beards; he can’t think of any other reason why they have been barred!)
Many other activists and opposition campaigners have been blocked as well. (Last night, by contrast, TV2 ran a short promotional film showcasing “development” and harmony in Sarawak, with enough glimpses of Najib and Adenan.)
Election campaigning is a legitimate political activity, no doubt about it. And yet, campaigners from across the country have been denied entry into the state. Submit this to the Guinness Book of World Records, I say. (All this while, BN campaigners have access to helicopters and speedboats to reach interior areas in the state.)
Even the autocratic former Chief Minister, Taib Mahmud, at his worst never resorted to such tactics – though of course there was the gerrymandering, malapportionment and the euphemistic ‘politics of development’.
So is Adenan, who stood by silently all these years, really the reformist he claims to be? Far from it. In fact, analyst Faisal S Hazis, in this perceptive analysis, believes Adenan is overrated.
Faisal says the BN should still win a two-thirds majority (55 seats) of the 82 state seats but it will be hard-pressed to reach Adenan’s target of 70 seats.
Despite all the shameful obstacles put in the way of opposition campaigners, Faisal still expects the opposition to win 10-16 seats. (In 2011, opposition and independent candidates won 16 out of 71 seats.)
Whatever the outcome, Sarawak and Sabah are poised to play a more decisive role as ‘king-makers’ in national politics, given the number of parliamentary seats allotted to the two states. But there is no guarantee they will stick with the BN. There is also no guarantee that the greater autonomy they crave will benefit the ordinary people rather than the fat cats.
The BN government in Sarawak has had a terrible record in several key areas:
- its wealth from oil royalties – in fact, this must be the wealthiest state in the federation in terms of natural resources – has not filtered to ordinary rural dwellers. Instead, cronies have grown fat.
- its magnificent primary rainforests, a global treasure in this era of climate change, has all but been wiped out by the politically well-connected timber and plantation barons, leaving less than 10 per cent of the original forests remaining.
- many of the schools in the state are in poor condition.
- basic amenities such as piped water and electricity are still lacking in many areas. And we are in the 21st Century!
- vast swathes of native customary land have been grabbed for a pittance.
- Sarawak former chief minister Taib Mahmud’s family company CMS (and other well-connected firms) have amassed enormous wealth from infrastructure projects in the state.
Where was Adenan all this while?
And now under Score, the so-called Sarawak Corridor for Renewable Energy, the BN state government is poised to build many more mega dams, even though the projected 16 per cent annual growth in energy demand appears to be inflated; it easily exceeds even China’s annual growth rate in energy demand during its boom period.
(This kinda reminds me of the latest Penang transport masterplan, which seems to inflate Penang’s projected population growth rate – even though the state’s fertility level and net inward migration have been falling – to justify massive investments in more expensive transport infrastructure options.)
A University of Berkelery study reveals that a smaller-scale energy solution for Sarawak would be much cheaper and more effective.:
The Small-Scale Solution
Now a new study out of the University of California–Berkeley reveals that there are better energy alternatives that could electrify rural villages in the river basin in a sustainable manner, and at a fraction of the current cost of the SCORE project.
More importantly, the study has the potential to become a powerful tool for rural villages to take charge of their own energy future and actively participate in the energy debate around them.
The UC Berkeley report, Kampung Capacity: Local Solutions for Sustainable Rural Energy in the Baram River Basin, was conducted by graduate student Rebekah Shirley with the director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory, Dr. Daniel Kammen. The researchers surveyed the energy options for three villages (or kampungs) along the Baram River, in collaboration with the Sabah-based group Land, Empowerment, Animals and People (LEAP) and Oregon-based group Green Empowerment.
The researchers found that the most feasible and least-cost options for these villages are locally managed small-scale hydropower projects, followed by biogas generators with batteries. In fact, Green Empowerment has already successfully installed small-scale hydro in a number of villages in Sarawak. These would replace the villages’ polluting diesel generators, would cost approximately 40% less (and have no recurring fuel costs), would give them uninterrupted power (unlike existing systems), and could be paid back in three years’ time.
Not only would these villages be saved from the social, economic, and environmental impacts that would accompany SCORE’s megadams, they would also receive cheap, clean electricity based on locally managed renewable resources. This in turn could lead to a score of other benefits including improved opportunities for education, greater social cohesion, and long-term local economic development.
According to the authors, expanding these benefits to all of rural Sarawak will require new policies, financing tools such as microfinance, and other institutional mechanisms that can support the implementation of these small-scale technologies across the country. But most of all, it will require public and political will to prioritize, as the authors put it, “empowering and strengthen[ing] indigenous life in East Malaysia.”
Unfortunately, Small is Beautiful is anathema to many politicians – not just in Sarawak. They would much prefer Big Bucks Mega Infrastructure Projects, which primarily benefit major corporate interests, rather than cheaper, financially and environmentally more sustainable and effective solutions for the people.