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Sarawak voters’ concerns

AS a Sarawakian, I am constantly frustrated by comments on Malaysian news websites and blogs by West Malaysians telling East Malaysians that they “get who they vote for”. These comments are inevitably made whenever human rights issues affecting East Malaysia are discussed. Most of these comments are made by people who probably have little regard for the welfare of East Malaysians, let alone knowledge of our social and political concerns.

Well, the next Sarawak state election needs to be called before June 2011. This election will likely reflect Sarawak’s direction, and could be a harbinger of the next general election’s outcomes, given that Sarawak could tip the balance for or against the ruling federal government. Therefore, as a Sarawakian and a voter, I would like to offer my perspectives on the complexity of Sarawak politics primarily for West Malaysian readers.

Sarawak voters are split primarily by age. Older and younger voters have their own distinct voting trends.

How older voters will vote:

1Familiarity with candidates

Many older Sarawakians tend to vote for candidates instead of parties. A familiar and well-connected candidate, linked by familial relations or friendship, is more likely to topple the odds than a strong political party agenda.  Among Chinese Sarawakian voters, outstanding figures from their community can easily gain more votes than other candidates from established parties. A similar pattern can be seen with the indigenous community.  

older voter says 'i always vote for the candidate i know, from the party i recognise'2Loyalty

To generalise, Sarawakians, especially those of indigenous background, are very straightforward when it comes to their relationship with figures of authority. They are not likely to receive gifts from political parties and then vote for the other guy or gal. Among certain members of the Sarawakian community, loyalty to a particular Yang Berhormat is seen as a virtue.  

3Familiarity with the logo

This may seem ridiculous until you realise that many of the voters in the heartland are seniors, up to 70 years old or older. The dacing has built a reputation for itself — it is also, coincidentally, the logo of a popular brand of rice. Its closest rival, the Parti Keadilan Rakyat logo, has yet to build that reputation.

Therefore, local issues as well as familiarity of the candidate will be the core factors in deciding the older community’s vote.

How younger voters will vote:  

1Jobs and economic opportunities

person saying 'it's too expensive to return home'

Poverty and economic opportunities are crucial issues concerning young Sarawak voters. Many young Sarawakians are now in West Malaysia, either to study or work. Like many urban West Malaysians, these young Sarawakians are strongly pro-opposition. However, monetary limitations and expensive flights may mean that they will not be able to return to cast their votes.

2Religion and culture

person saying 'i can't take so many days off from work'

East Malaysian native tribes in Sarawak identify as bumiputera but are predominantly Christian. Young Sarawakians have been affected by the “Allah” issue, but it remains to be seen if this issue is large enough to activate protest votes. My bet is it isn’t. This is because the ban on non-Muslim usage of “Allah” will be more painfully felt among urban dwellers or those in West Malaysia, who face a stronger likelihood of arrest or fining. For their sentiments to make a difference, these young voters need to vote in their rural constituencies, and they are unlikely to be able to return there in time.  

3Lack of civic awareness and trust in established institutions

person sighing and saying 'after all that, i'm not sure it changes anything'

Among young Sarawakians who are residing within the state, many do not see politicians, lawmakers and law enforcers as people who can safeguard their safety and security. Instead, I believe a disturbing amount of young Sarawakians are turning to gangs or gang-like violence for protection. If my speculation is true, these youth will have no interest in registering as voters. Desperation, a strong factor in pushing West Malaysian youth to vote, will probably not cause many young Sarawakians to turn to the electoral process. They simply do not see it as an institution that can safeguard their interests. 

In conclusion, just as in West Malaysia, the crucial change factor lies with Sarawakian youth. However, lack of finances for West Malaysian-based Sarawakians to return in time to vote, and lack of trust in elections among Sarawak-based young voters, means this voting demographic is virtually absent.

Some predictions

hand holding buttered bread dropping it in as a vote into box labelled sarawak
Bread-and-butter issues shall be
a primary concern
The following are my predictions for the upcoming state election. I have not taken into consideration local issues that are still developing and will continue to develop in the crucial few months prior to the election. These will also shape the outcome of the elections.

1Kuching and its surrounding areas will be easily won by the opposition because it is culturally closer to West Malaysia, and the issues here are more complex. Issues such as corruption and freedom of religion are more relevant here.  

2Miri is likely to be won by the Barisan Nasional as it is the hometown of Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Dr George Chan. Recent years have seen a lot of development in the city. Miri is also more likely to be anti-Peninsula in sentiment, owing to the animosity some locals have towards wealthy “West Malaysian expatriates” working in petroleum companies such as Shell.  

3Sibu has always been a very pro-DAP town due to Chinese Sarawakian voting patterns. However, as with the last election, infighting among influential ethnic Chinese leaders may split votes as some may choose to contest as independents.  

For every other location, typical rural voting trends will prevail, with bread-and-butter issues as well as local factors being the primary concerns. This is a similar pattern in both East and West Malaysian communities. Favicon

Catalina Rembuyan grew up in a family of civil servants in Kuching before moving to Kuala Lumpur to study seven years ago. She not-so secretly hopes that her predictions will be met with some surprises. She is a Sarawakian voter, works as a writer for a local educational institution, and reads The Nut Graph.

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6 Responses to “Sarawak voters’ concerns”

  1. JL says:

    Thank you very much for this article. I believe that, like many West Malaysians, I have been guilty of having preconceived notions of how East Malaysians think, and create stereotypes in my mind of Sarawakians and Sabahans, and how they would vote as a result. I hope that PR will take note of this analysis, as well as the opinions of other Sarawakians like yourself, when planning its strategy for the state elections and the next GE.

  2. Ashraf says:

    I am a Sabahan and I don’t understand the logic behind [people saying] East Malaysians got what they voted for. In the peninsular, popular votes were [split] about 50 – 50, and before the Perak takeover the BN had 6 states to PR’s 5. So really, West malaysia pretty much voted together with East Malaysians. With all the media propaganda going on at the moment, and fickleness of Malaysian voters, amplified by MPs’ conduct recently, I can see why the current administration are resting easy right now.

  3. Kong Kek Kuat says:

    As far as Sarawak is concerned, and speaking as a Chinese-Malaysian with close Native friends, I can safely say that you West-Malaysian trouble-makers (think “Umno”) are not welcome – NOT WELCOME!

    So, please, Najib, stay away. And make your visits nil.

    Whatever accusations hurled at the current Sarawak govt, it is still better than an Umno-led govt. Though we feel that much needs to be changed, the current Sarawak system just needs lots of fine-tuning, not an overhaul. We may need to overhaul the personnel who run the system, but we definitely feel that we do not need anything that is led by Umno to bring us wealth and prosperity in Sarawak.

    In any case, Ms Catalina´s predictions for the upcoming State elections based on Sarawakians’ political and social sentiments are a little off. For example, she says that “Miri is also more likely to be anti-Peninsula in sentiment, owing to the animosity some locals have towards wealthy ‘West Malaysian expatriates’ working in petroleum companies such as Shell.” Are you kidding? First, we are anti-“West-Malaysian system”, not anti-“Peninsula”. We love visiting the Peninsula.

    Secondly, we are anti-West Malaysian system because you come here and raid our wealth to give it to West Malaysians [sounds familiar to any Sabahan in the house?] — all done without giving us the due respect!

    Thirdly, there is certainly some envy, but definitely no animosity. We don’t really give a hoot which West Malaysian works for which company. In fact, we welcome more companies to be established here in Sarawak.

    However, credit to Ms Catalina for trying to generally educate West Malaysians on Sarawak.

  4. faith04 says:

    From sources from my church, tens of thousands of East Malaysians are studying or working in Selangor/KL and other parts of West Malaysia.

    To these fellow Malaysians, please register in your current address and vote, you can make a difference. We need you to change for an equal and just society.

  5. thokiat says:

    Kalakau Untol’s resignation from BN and BN [control] was an eye opener as the previous exodus from BN were orchestrated by those formerly in power.

  6. svmbanu says:

    I’m not in a position to argue with or dismiss your views. But let me say this, if the Dayaks and their allies in Sarawak and the Kadazandusun and allies in Sabah fail to come together, as an Independent Third Force by 2013, then the fate of the Kayans of Sarawak awaits you both.


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