BN will win Sarawak, poll shows – By Debra Chong

The Malaysian Insider | KUALA LUMPUR, 14-July-2010 – A public opinion poll has predicted Sarawak Barisan Nasional (BN) will win big in state polls expected soon, suggesting a recent DAP win in the Sibu by-election two months ago did not indicate waning support for Chief Minister Tan Sri Taib Mahmud’s 29 year rule.

Sixty-four per cent out of 518 respondents polled by the independent Merdeka Center backed BN for the next state elections, a one per cent increase from the last elections in Sarawak in 2006.

However, several factors could still swing the vote in favour of the Opposition, said the head of politics and international relations in Universiti Sarawak’s (Unimas) social science faculty.

In his paper titled “Between Continuity and Change”, Unimas’s Dr Faisal Hazis, who worked with the Merdeka Center to provide an analysis of the survey results, noted the growing popularity of the alternative media among the urban electorate and an increased appetite to see a higher level of democratic practice in government as key forces that could tilt the balance.

“If the local opposition parties can get their act together to form a unified coalition and exploit the grievances and desire for change, the coming state elections could be a feisty affair,” he briefed reporters here today.

Faisal pointed out that while the Chinese community felt they were being sidelined by the ruling front, the Bumiputera voters in Sarawak strongly identified with the BN.

A high 65.6 per cent of respondents were confident they could keep their jobs for the next year while 59.2 per cent were upbeat about the country’s future, even though almost half of those polled expressed a general dissatisfaction with the economy.

More than two thirds of those polled viewed BN in a positive light.

While they were not blind to the coalition’s shortcomings — 68 per cent cited weak political leadership, intra-party rivalry (66 per cent), and money politics (61.4 per cent) — they also generally believed BN was capable of change.

Notably, 65.9 per cent wanted the government to dissolve the affirmative action policy, which is geared at protecting Malay/ Bumiputera interest.

More than half of the respondents did not believe that government aid would reach the needy with 37.1 per cent saying government programmes only benefited the rich.

Close to half said the government was not careful in spending public money and nearly three quarters cited corruption as a major problem in the country.

In contrast, only 11.2 per cent strongly backed the Opposition, with 36 per cent support from the Chinese community.

However, about one-third of the respondents appeared to be open to voting for the Opposition.

About a third of the respondents attributed their poor perception of the Opposition to the lack of unity among the different parties, while 26.6 per cent said the BN rival lacked ideas on economic development.

But Dr Faisal noted that 21.1 per cent of the respondents saw PKR de facto chief Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s leadership in a positive light.

He put it down to the growing popularity of the alternative media — namely the Internet and partisan newspapers — among a significant portion of the electorate (almost 20 per cent) in the more urban seats in the state, especially from the Dayak professionals; as well as scepticism and mistrust of the BN from some quarters.

In his analysis, Dr Faisal said the survey results disproved the myth that Sarawakian voters were parochial in their approach to politics, but showed instead that the local electorate took a healthy interest in national issues.

While the odds were heavily stacked against the Opposition, he did not discount the possibility of a sudden swing in their favour, noting the DAP’s successful campaign leading up to the May by-election.

“Sarawak is more accommodating [on racial and religious issues] than in the Peninsula,” he said, referring to how the DAP had played up the “Allah” dispute ongoing in West Malaysia by asking the locals to “help us teach Peninsula to be more accommodating”.

If the Opposition could exploit such current issues again when the state elections come around, the results “would not be as what the polls show”.

If not, the Opposition may have to wait for at least another “one or two decades” to break the BN’s stranglehold on Malaysia’s largest state, said Dr Faisal.