KUALA LUMPUR, 13 July 2010: The Barisan Nasional (BN) will continue to rule Sarawak for at least two more state elections, said a Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas) political scientist.
Citing the latest Merdeka Center for Opinion Research poll on Malaysian political values, Faisal S Hazis said the perception that the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) could take control of Sarawak was unjustified.
“Sarawak will remain with the BN for one, maybe two more decades,” Faisal, who is Unimas’s political and international relations department head, said today at a Kuala Lumpur forum by Merdeka Center to present the poll results.
He said despite doubts about the BN’s grip on Sarawak, especially after the Sibu by-election, 64.1% of the Sarawakian respondents in the poll indicated support for the BN.
This, he noted, was an increase by 1.1% of the popular vote that the BN secured in the 2006 state election.
Sarawak must hold a state election by the middle of 2011, although talk has been rife that it will be called earlier.
The BN has consistently won at least 55% of the popular vote in Sarawak since 1974. It won 71.2% of the popular vote in the 2001 election. However, this dropped to 62.9% in 2006. Still, voter support remains substantial.
Massive swing needed
Faisal said the 2006 election data showed that there were only 12 marginal seats out of 71 in Sarawak.
“If there was a 5% vote swing towards the opposition, it would only give them five more seats. A 10% vote swing would give the opposition 12 more seats and a total of 21 seats in the state assembly,” said Faisal.
However, for the opposition to capture 36 seats and take over the government, it would require a vote swing of 20%, which Faisal categorised as “ridiculously impossible” by the next election.
Faisal also said Sarawak’s size and terrain was challenging for the opposition, especially since the state government controlled most of the resources. An average-sized constituency such as Krian is about the size of Singapore, whereas the largest constituency, Belaga, is the size of Pahang.
Faisal said an opposition candidate told him that just to bring supporters to polling centres on polling day cost RM50,000.
Desire for change
However, all is not gloomy for the opposition. While between 70% and 80% of respondents had a positive perception of the BN, many of them were at the same time skeptical of the government.
“More than half believed that the government’s aid would not reach the needy, while almost half felt that the government is not spending money prudently,” said Faisal.
He added that a high percentage, 65.7%, said they were having trouble making ends meet. Many respondents also wanted to see an increased level of democracy, and for the government to be free from corruption.
There were also some positive indicators for the opposition. This included endorsement of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s leadership; increasing popularity of the new media; and a strong sense of skepticism and distrust towards the ruling party.
“If a unified opposition can exploit the people’s grievances and their desire for change, the coming state election could become a feisty affair,” said Faisal.
Less racial politics
Faisal noted that racial politics was not played out in Sarawak as much as in Peninsular Malaysia. “All the BN parties in Sarawak are multiracial parties. So are all the opposition parties,” he said.
“This is because Sarawak is a multiracial state. A race-based political party which focuses only on one race would not survive.”
Faisal, however, pointed out that racial and religious issues “imported” from Peninsular Malaysia could be divisive.
He cited the “Allah” controversy as one example. “In Sarawak, Christians have been using ‘Allah’ for ages, so it’s a non-issue. But during the Sibu by-election, the opposition managed to exploit the issue by saying that the electorate should teach peninsular Malaysians to be as accommodating as the bumiputera in Sarawak. It played an important role in moving the fence-sitters,” he said.
The Merdeka Center survey, which looked at voters’ views about unity, government spending, interest in politics and race-based affirmative action, polled 3,141 adults nationwide between January and April 2010. Out of that figure, 518 were Sarawakians.
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