Just before I left Sarawak, a Melanau resident of Kuching gave me some sound advice to pass on.
“Please tell the opposition parties not to focus on urban areas in Sarawak. We know what the issues are. They need to work in the interior areas. That’s where the work must be done.”
It is no coincidence that the PKR candidates who won in the interior areas had done their ground work long before polling day on 16 April.
Land grabs are a big issue in Sarawak. Perhaps it is not surprising that all three victorious PKR candidates have been involved in NCR land issues.
Both See Chee How and Baru Bian are lawyers working in the same legal firm and are well known for their work in handling NCR land cases.
Many wondered how Ali anak Biju was able to win in Krian. Even though he is a contractor and not a lawyer, he too has been championing the rights of those who have lost their land.
Ali only knew that he might be a candidate earlier this year. But he had already been something of a land rights activist for a couple of years now. A couple of people told me he gets a rock star’s reception in his area.
Candidates for the parliamentary elections need to be identified early and they must hit the ground now so that the people are familiar with them by the time the general election comes around. That’s the only way to win their trust and counter any vote buying and gain access to the long-houses. Opposition candidates cannot hope to match the BN’s financial resources and spending.
In Baru Bian’s case, because he was familiar with the people and had won their trust, he said he was able to convince the residents to think of their long-term future and not to sacrifice their principles for short-term gain.
Aspiring YBs cannot hope to win if they turn up a few weeks before polling and hope they can pull through. They won’t. By going to the ground early, they can get a head start in addressing what matters most to the voters.
Meanwhile, Baru Bian said last night he saw the results of the election as a continuation of the struggle to establish a two-party system in Malaysia and to give voters a real choice. The results of the election will have an impact on Sabah and the peninsula, he added. “The BN has always regarded Sarawak as a ‘safe deposit’. Today, that safe deposit has been withdrawn.”