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Sunday, September 30, 2001

Barisan ‘brand’ strikes the right chord

A university lecturer analysing Barisan Nasional’s victory in the Sarawak election found that it had a lot to do with branding. He talks to PHILIP GOLINGAI.

IF there’s a sure factor that led Barisan Nasional to its resounding victory at the Sarawak polls, it would be its strong branding.

The nearly 380,000 voters brought in 60 of the 62 seats on Thursday.

Polling in Sarawak, apparently, is likened to buying a consumer product, according to Universiti Malaysia Sarawak social science lecturer Mohd Faisal Syam Abdol Hazis.

In attempting to analyse the psychology of the voters and their voting trend, he explained that if a certain brand of toothpaste has been advertised constantly in the media, people would eventually see it as a household name for that product.

The mentality of voters is no different from buyers, says Mohd Faisal, adding that "the state Barisan parties have been here for a long time and in the mind of the voters, it is the only party which is reliable and can bring development."

The state coalition - comprising Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB), Sarawak United People's Party (SUPP), Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak (PBDS), and Sarawak Nasional Party (SNAP) - received 69.9% or 381,859 popular votes. It is an improvement from their 1996 state polls result of 65.56% with 242,797 popular votes and 57 seats.

Mohd Faisal says the most obvious and prominent factor that influenced the voters in the 2001 state polls is party and not candidate. "Take the example of Padungan, where a popular candidate (SUPP incumbent Datuk Song Swee Guan) was replaced by a less popular one (SUPP Wanita chief Lily Yong)."

Yong, he adds, won because they voted for party and not candidate. Kidurong and Meluan, which Barisan lost, were exceptions.

To stress the importance of party in the voters' decision, Mohd Faisal points to Telang Usan, where a political unknown wrested the seat from the incumbent who was popular and from the upper class of his Orang Ulu community.

The fact that 39 of the 63 independent candidates lost their deposits reinforces the fact that the voters did not want a candidate without a strong party base, says Mohd Faisal.

It is not easy for opposition parties - Parti Keadilan Nasional and PAS - that are making a debut in the Sarawak elections to try to win seats, says Mohd Faisal. "DAP started in Sarawak in 1976 and it took the party 20 years to win a state seat," he adds, referring to the party's breakthrough in the 1999 state polls where it won Kidurong, Pelawan and Bukit Assek.

Some may complain about the slow development when a constituency is under Barisan, but the voters, especially in the rural areas, are comforted by the fact that at least development is there. They are quite convinced that development would not come if they voted in the opposition.

Moreover, says Faisal, the opposition parties must be mindful that multi-ethnic Sarawak is more pluralist compared with the peninsula. Hence, there is a need for a party that is based on multi-ethnicity.

"If Keadilan wants to make an impact in Sarawak, it must show that it also has the voice of the Ibans," he says. The state Keadilan has prominent Malay and Chinese leaders, but the same cannot be said of its Dayak leaders.

Keadilan could, he suggests, take a leaf out of SUPP on how to overcome the perception that it represents only a community in the state.

"How SUPP, which is dominated by the Chinese, avoids being perceived as a Chinese party is by power-sharing within Barisan," says Faisal.

This is one strategy the opposition parties in Sarawak lacks, he says, adding that "one way for them to beat Barisan is to use the same weapon, which is a united front."

"On polling day, when a voter crosses the dacing symbol, he or she is choosing a party which caters for certain communities, such as PBB for Malay/Melanau or SUPP for Chinese," he explains.

But a united front is a double-edged sword for the opposition. "It is a gone case (with Sarawak-ian voters) if DAP is seen to be aligned to PAS or Keadilan," says Mohd Faisal.

"The trend in the 1999 general election continued in the Chinese-majority seats, where the community equated DAP's alliance with PAS to both parties heading for an Islamic state."

This happened to Keadilan in the Chinese-majority seat of Repok. "SUPP’s Datuk David Teng Lung Chi linked Keadilan to PAS, and PAS to Taliban, and Taliban to the New York's Word Trade Centre terrorist attacks."

Even when the DAP pulled out of the alternative front at national level half way through the nine-day campaigning, the voters did not change their mind, says Mohd Faisal.

The majority of Sarawakians have shown, through the ballot boxes, that the state Barisan is close to their hearts. In the next elections, any political party wishing to take on the Barisan had better improve on its branding.

Source: The Star

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Sunday, September 30, 2001

  • Voters give opposition the boot
  • Barisan ‘brand’ strikes the right chord
  • Sarawak sends a strong signal
  • Winners must prove their worth
  • All abuzz over Judat’s victory
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