The Malaysian Insider | PETALING JAYA, 27-Apr-2011 — Political analysts have warned that Pakatan Rakyat (PR) could lose its momentum in Sarawak should Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud resign before the next general election.
In their analysis of the just-concluded state polls, the scholars pointed out last night without the “anti-Taib” rallying cry to unite opposition supporters, Barisan Nasional (BN) may regain its lost votes — particularly from the rural communities.
As such, they said all PR parties — including DAP — needed to quickly formulate a new strategy that would bring their campaign beyond the anti-Taib sentiment and penetrate deeper into the interiors of the hornbill state where BN’s vote bank lies.
Political scientist Wong Chin Huat said DAP could not afford to rest on its laurels and expect its victories to repeat in the coming polls without working hard to keep its message alive among its supporters.
“PR will go forward but can it continue to maintain its dominance in urban Sarawak?
“Taib is now seen as a ‘rural CM’. Will he go before the federal elections? If he does, the opposition cannot campaign against him [any] longer because you cannot find a leader more hated than him.
“But can they survive without Taib?” he said during a Merdeka Center forum on the April 16 Sarawak state polls held at the Hilton Hotel here last night.
Wong pointed out that failure to perform well in Sarawak during the general election would mirror PR’s failure to wrest control of Putrajaya.
This, he said, was because by remaining in the opposition, PR parties would find it hard to prove to voters that they could do better than the ruling government.
“Like in Sarawak… can DAP do better than SUPP in government? They need to be remembered… they need to show that although they are in the opposition, they are really driving the state forward,” he said.
Wong said PR needed to offer “something” tangible to Sarawak voters to keep their support from dissipating, stressing on an often-raised point that the political expectations of east Malaysians vastly differed from those of the peninsula voters.
“PR does not have a policy for Sarawak. Its urban centre is stuck now as there is a stagnation in development so PR needs to offer something.
“(Penang Chief Minister) Lim Guan Eng came in to speak about offering free WiFi to Sarawakians but that is a West Malaysian thing; it’s different in Sarawak,” he pointed out.
Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas) Associate Professor Dr Andrew Aeria agreed, noting PR’s message to voters was to “change” but that the pact had failed to explain the alternatives.
“You tell them to change but change for what? Do not forget, BN has an economic policy in place and whether we like to admit it or not, people have benefitted.
“PR has not come up with an economic programme for Sarawak… so if you want to dislodge their programme, you need to come up with something better,” he warned.
He agreed that while many voters were unhappy with Taib’s 30-year rule, they still voted him into power as they were comfortable with doing so.
“True, it is always better to be safe than sorry and voters are very rational that way. Until and unless you can provide them with a better alternative, they would not want to risk it.
“This sentiment may not be shared by the urban communities but for those in the rural areas, losing BN is seen as very risky,” he explained.
Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas) lecturer Dr Faisal Syam Hazis concurred with his fellow academicians, adding that all three PR parties needed to pool their resources and begin working the ground immediately to prepare for the general election.
He said DAP needed to move beyond its representation of the urban Chinese communities while all PR parties should share in the burden of taking on seats in BN strongholds.
“In the polls, DAP was obviously very well-equipped but the other PR parties were struggling with their campaigns.
“There is a need for PR to formulate strategies together,” he said.
Aeria agreed that the Sarawak state polls had seen a divided campaign among DAP, PKR and PAS, resulting in imbalanced victories between the parties.
On April 16, DAP emerged the biggest winners by securing 12 of the 15 state seats it had contested. PKR trailed behind, winning three of its 49 seats, while PAS failed to win a single seat.
Aeria said PKR’s biggest weakness in the polls was its lack of co-ordination and groundwork among candidates. He added that PR was still arguing over its manifesto even after nomination day.
“There was also no sharing of campaign machineries. It did not happen. Every party went out on their own.
“It is true that the leaders came together — Lim Kit Siang, Guan Eng, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat — but the machinery at the lower ground level… that was another story,” he said.
Faisal agreed that PR needed to stop depending heavily on the anti-Taib vote in the coming polls, particularly to prepare for the possibility that the chief minister stepped down before it is called.
The 13th general election must be called by April 2013. During the Sarawak state polls, Taib had promised to leave in “two or three years’” time, bowing to public pressure and the growing disenchantment among even BN leaders against his lengthy leadership.
The opposition had centred most of its campaign messages on calling for Taib’s early resignation, capitalising on the numerous allegations of corruption and abuse of power made against the country’s longest-serving chief minister.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak also spent six days in Sarawak urging voters to believe Taib’s resignation plan, an unprecedented move that PR had described as a desperate attempt by the ruling pact to cling on to its fixed deposit state.
“So if Taib goes, what’s next? The challenge is for PR to penetrate the rural seats. Overcome the struggle between the opposition factions,” said Faisal
However, the analysts also agreed that with Taib’s thumping victory on April 16, it was unlikely that the chief minister would relinquish his post before the national poll.
BN managed to triumph in 55 seats during the state polls, retaining its two-thirds majority in the state and safely recapturing government.
Of the 55, Taib’s PBB topped the charts by winning in all 35 state seats that it contested while PRS won eight of its nine seats, SPDP in six of its eight seats and SUPP in six of 19 seats contested.
The ruling pact’s popular vote, however, dipped considerably — from 63 per cent in 2006 to 55.5 per cent this year.