Most people think that the main gains for the opposition in Sarawak came from the ethnic Chinese. But an analysis by political science professor Bridget Welsh shows a different picture.
As you can see, the biggest opposition gains in percentage share of voters came from the Orang Ulu, Malay and Bidayuh groups – higher than the Iban and Chinese gains.
This could be because the baseline for Chinese voters was already high, given that many of them reside in urban areas and had already voted for the opposition in 2006.
The other myth is that the opposition gains (in percentage terms) came from urban areas. Not so. The largest gains in percentage terms came from semi-rural seats.
Again, this could be because the urban seats had already seen high levels of support in 2006; thus they had a higher baseline compared to semi-rural and rural seats.
This time around, I imagine the voter awareness has spread out from urban areas to reach semi-rural areas such as Batu Kawah, Dudong and Piasau. It has even reached rural areas, which experienced a distinct increase in support for the opposition, but not enough for a tsunami – yet.
Bridget’s analysis in Malaysiakini also points to something of a ‘youth revolt’:
In the lower polling streams, where new voters are concentrated, more than 70% of voters opposed the BN. Given the largely young crowds at rallies, especially in Kuching and Miri, this is no surprise.
We see two pattern – higher mobilisation of younger voters, an estimated 16% increase in turnout compared to older voters, and an overwhelming level of support for Pakatan among younger voters in the lower streams, with a change in trend of over 25%. In 2006, there was already stronger support for the opposition among the youth, but this appears to have significantly increased.
What this suggests to me is that political awareness is growing. It is reaching younger voters (who are also the biggest users of new media and new technology) while simultaneously fanning out from the cities and towns to sub-urban and semi-urban areas and even creeping into rural areas.
With increasing awareness over time will come a new consciousness. Expect the ruling coalition to come under even more pressure the next time around.
To me, the results of the Sarawak should not be looked at in ethnic terms but should be seen as a function of how aware voters are of the governance issues of the day and whether they are able to see a connection between these issues and their immediate daily problems and needs.
That said, those of us in the urban areas should not be arrogant enough to think that we know what is best for our counterparts in the interior areas. There is much that we too can learn from those living in the interior areas – about the importance of community solidarity and networks, food self-sufficiency, and the ability to live in harmony with the natural environment with a minimal carbon footprint.