A Kuching-based political observer sent me this letter which I am sharing with you. See what you make of it.
What PR and PKR in particular failed to understand is how the BN has worked in rural areas (Malay, Melanau, Iban, Bidayuh and some Orang Ulu). These communities rely heavily on the BN for paltry sums of donations and grants. Come elections the penghulus (appointed by BN) may be told to ensure all the longhouses under their care vote for BN and prevent any opposition politicians from entering their longhouses.
The penghulus are afraid because they receive a monthly allowance from the government and there is no way they are going to allow anyone to make them lose their allowances.
On top of that some penghulu may be given a sum of money to be distributed to the longhouse folks through the longhouse chiefs. Along the way the amount smeant for each longhouse dweller may be ‘taxed’ by the penghulus and longhouse chiefs. Of course besides money there are things like beers, pigs for BBQ, rice packets, etc that may be distributed.
Now, we must remember many of the folks are poor and they see election time as ‘durian runtuh’. To us in the towns and cities we think it is so cheap to buy their votes but to them it is either that or nothing at all. We forget them all after the elections as no opposition parties are seen after that returning to see how they are doing. The BN rep will return be it for Christmas or Gawai or Hari Raya and dish out some money for their places of worship like chapels, etc.
The church on the other hand is another issue. The leaders especially in the rural areas are only humans. They want to be seen as ‘powerful’ and to be met and to be shaking hands with the YBs. It makes them feel important. So again these leaders will not tell them the real issues facing society at large. To the educated ones they say the church remains neutral and this allows them the justification of not standing up against abuses.
PR will have to start early and right away if they want to win GE 13. They shouldn’t wait until the date is announced. They should start by identifying and choosing several potential candidates to stand for GE 13. Once the candidates are known they will have to start work on the ground. In one constituency, you could have say three or four potential candidates. As the date draws nearer, the party leadership should choose the most hard working, dedicated and promising candidates as its final choice. All the others who are not chosen then will have to just support the candidate chosen.
Sarawak is a vast area and larger than West Malaysia. It takes time and money to be able to reach out to the rural masses. In this state election, all the PR big guns campaigned heavily in the urban areas. The results showed it worked. PR leaders should go to the rural areas now to start off the GE 13 campaign. When they wait till the date is announced, they themselves will be busy with their own individual areas. Internet is only accessible in urban areas. Even if they can get it in rural areas they would not be able to afford it. PR can start their campaign by getting several doctors/medical personnel to visit the rural areas and conduct health checks free of charge. In this way you get to know the villagers and they get to know you too. You can also provide reading material or simple toys for the children. Provide sewing machines and teach the people to sew and make a small living. Instead of giving cash, pigs, beers, etc, these suggestions would be more useful and could help change their hard lives in the interior.
At the end of the day, as things stand, it all boils down to money and who has the most of it to dish out. Now you understand why BN is ever so powerful in Sarawak and is referred to as its fixed deposit. In a way, PR failed to understand the people. They rely on their advisers who are mainly educated and sitting behind the desk in an air-conditioned office. They listen to political scientist/analyst/observers and armchair ‘experts’.
One point of interest in this state election, is that lawyers like Baru Bian, See Chee How, etc got voted in but they kicked out doctors including George Chan, Chris Kiyui, Michael Teo….. Perhaps when there is a shortage of doctors in the state, the people prefer them to remain as doctors – not as politicians – and help patients instead.
The key to change in Sarawak now is with a change of government in the federal level. Not the other way round. And the key to Putrajaya will be the rural areas of Sabah and Sarawak.