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Sunday, September 30, 2001

Voters give opposition the boot (Sarawak)

Four days before Sarawakians marked their ballot papers, Parti Keadilian Nasional erected huge billboards at several junctions in Kuching city. "Taib Must Go," blared the hand-written slogans in English and Chinese.

The next day, Barisan Nasional hit back with equally big billboards at strategic city corners. But no words screamed out, only a caricature of Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud atop a map of Sarawak kicking a Keadilan logo ball back to Peninsular Malaysia.

"Undi orang kita," read another Barisan banner hung at a Malay kampung in the constituency of Demak Luat fringing the city.

When the results of the eighth state elections poured in on Thursday night, the message from most Sarawak voters was clear: they were still wary of the motives of peninsula politicians.

They also dealt a severe blow to a group of 42 local independents led by former Defence Minister Datuk Abang Abu Bakar Mustapha, who was bent on bringing Umno to Sarawak.

Compared to the popular votes of the last state polls, the four Barisan parties increased the figure by about 4.5% this time - from 242,797 to 381,859, with a turnout of 71% of the registered 868,748 voters. The votes gave Taib and his partners all but two of the seats in the 62-member legislative assembly and four were won uncontested on nomination day.

The peninsula-based DAP secured about 8% of the votes, Keadilan 7% and PAS 0.5%. The 60 local independents tallied less than 11% and the home-grown State Reform Party obtained about 2%.

Of the 53 candidates who lost their RM3,000 deposits, 10 were from Keadilan, two DAP and one PAS. The others were 39 independents and one from the State Reform Party.

Whatever hot national and local issues raised by Keadilan, PAS and DAP failed to translate into votes although loud confrontational opposition ceramahs drew bigger crowds during the nine days of campaigning.

"They should pack up and go home. There is no reason for them to come here," was the immediate reaction of Datuk Dr James Masing Jemut, the information chief of Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak.

The Iban-based party members often repeat stories of why PAS members were chased away from longhouses. Over a few drinks, they laughed over how a green-robed PAS leader wore white gloves to shake hands with some longhouse folk.

For the opposing side, another Barisan joke about symbols of DAP, PAS, Keadilan and the acronym of the ABU group that kept a crowd in Sibu in stitches during the campaign became a reality at the end of polling.

"The rocket should be landing on the moon. But no, it shoots the moon instead, splitting it in two. The impact disintegrates the rocket to abu (ash), which is ‘dibebaskan’ (released) into the air. So let's bebas (free) him to go wherever he wants," Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Aziz, the Entre-preneur Development Minister, reportedly told a crowd prior to polling day.

On a more serious note, Parti Pesaka Bumiputra Bersatu deputy president Datuk Abang Johari said the voters had given a clear signal to PAS and Keadilan not to divide Sarawak Malays who are grouped together with the Melanaus as one community.

"It now shows that the Malays are not split as claimed. Keadilan is the one who came here to split to Malays," said Johari, whose majority was halved by Keadilan's Zulrushdi Mohamed Hol.

With Johari's Satok seat an exception, all the Keadilan, PAS and DAP candidates lost popular votes - gains made by the opposition during the 1999 parliamentary elections in Sarawak's 27 constituencies.

The Barisan candidates increased their majorities in 34 seats for a historic victory since Taib assumed office 20 years ago. It also silenced the veteran leader's critics within the coalition and outside.

Only the 1987 and 1991 polls preceding the Ming Court affair to oust Taib saw the highest number of opposition members in the assembly, now reduced to a DAP loner, Chiu Chui Siong, and independent Wong Judat.

Why did the peninsula parties and the independents fail miserably in their attempts to unseat Taib? Did they not see the deep-rooted sentiments of the Sarawak people despite intelligence reports that marked several seats as marginal midway through the campaign?

Was it as how the Barisan leaders, with a cohesive elections machinery and strategy, see it to be: "A rejection of the gutter politics of dirty tactics of the opposition parties."

No single answer would have contributed to Barisan’s convincing win.

Multiple factors seem to have swayed the voters away from the opposition, apart from the core effect of stability and unity provided by a Barisan government all these years. Demography, localised issues, personalities, promises, projects, money, and the media are among the factors.

Barisan Nasional was marketed as a viable consumer product to the people and the dacing brand kept playing in the minds of the majority of voters.

It won the day for Barisan to rule Sarawak for the next five years.

More on the 2001 Sarawak State Election

Source: The Star

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Sunday, September 30, 2001

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