(EDITOR’S NOTE: The writer is a researcher with DAP, but we made sure his DAP-ness was in check 😉 #Transparency).
About a month and a half ago, Sarawak held its State elections (their election time is different from the rest of Malaysia) which BN won by a landslide. Of course, this outcome wasn’t welcome news to everyone – especially those in the Semenanjung. In fact, some were so genuinely confused and angry about it that they took to Facebook to rant and well, ugaiz know what happens when confused and angry people go on FB la.
But perhaps, as covered in a previous CILISOS article, this might have been due to the assumption that people in Sarawak care about the same issues that Semenanjung people do – like GST, 1MDB, and stuff – which wasn’t really the case. But does this mean that everyone in Semenanjung Malaysia cares about these issues? Well, there was a recent by-election that took place in Sungai Besar (Selangor) and Kuala Kangsar (Perak) slightly over a week ago, and guess what?
Barisan won big time…. Again! (But why?)
Before going into the results, we gotta first explain that a by-election is a special election which takes place whenever an ADUN or MP seat becomes vacant. And just two days before the Sarawak election polling day, two MPs, Datuk Wan Mohammad Khair-il Anwar Wan Ahmad (Kuala Kangsar) and Tan Sri Noriah Kasnon (Sungai Besar), were killed in a tragic helicopter crash in Sebuyau, Sarawak. So with these 2 seats being vacant, the Election Commission (EC) called for 2 by-elections in the respective constituencies. And here’s the outcome:
That’s right, just like in the Sarawak State Elections, the BN candidate here won quite convincingly. The 9000-plus vote majority gained by BN came as a surprise to many, and even to BN candidate Budiman Zohdi himself! Talking to the locals we thought it would be a lot closer, but even if ugaiz combine PAS’ and Amanah’s votes, BN’s majority would still be 2000+ votes, 4x the majority BN won by in 2013.
So what happened here?
In an attempt to know more about the REAL issues affecting voters in the elections, this writer (me!) went on a roadtrip with DAP to Sungai Besar during the two week campaigning period before the June 18 voting day!
We wanted to talk to the folks in the rural Sungai Besar area as well as the neighboring Sekinchan town in person to get more of a sense of what they want to see from their elected rep, and whether or not certain hot topic issues would affect their vote.
Oh, and we chose to cover Sungai Besar also mainly because its closer to KL 🙂
So here’s what the locals told us…
1. They know about 1MDB and Corruption, but maybe not how it affects the country
The conversations about GST and the rising cost of living would often lead to talking about corruption in government agencies. Since last year, PM Najib Razak has come under a lot of heat from foreign press, opposition figures, and even Tun Mahathir over his alleged involvement in the 1MDB scandal. It must be said that most people in Sungai Besar are fully aware of these allegations, but they might not know the finer details or how big of a scandal it is. We wanted to know how the locals felt about this case as well as government corruption in general.
“Kerajaan tadak bagus ma. Banyak rasuah.” – a fisherman from Sekinchan.
“Saya tengok itu berita saya rasa sedih. Macam ada orang kaya buat salah tapi tak kena apa-apa. Yang miskin jadi lagi miskin tapi yang kaya macam sudah lagi kaya.” – Mahes, 30 year old convenience store employee in Sekinchan..
“Saya rasa orang patut lebih tahu pasal benda ni. Kebanyakan orang dekat kampung ni tak tahu sangat kenapa ada GST, dan apa kesan 1MDB ni kepada rakyat. Yelah, takkan tiba-tiba je barang mahal. Orang-orang tua ramai harapkan anak-anak balik cerita dekat diorang pasal kes-kes ni. Itu pun ntah betul ntah tidak.” – Pakcik selling bubur lambuk in Sungai Besar.
Overall, the general feeling here about corruption in Sekinchan was more of anger and disappointment towards the government for not dealing with corruption effectively. Since we talked to them in the middle of the campaigning period, ceramahs from Pakatan Harapan leaders which campaigned heavily against BN using the 1MDB scandal were probably still fresh in their minds. In Sungai Besar, we found that most folks here were also aware that corruption exists in government. One Pakcik we talked to there said that the Opposition isn’t clean either, so for him corruption would not be a main factor behind his vote.
2. They’re also affected by GST
The most common theme throughout our conversations with the locals was the rising cost of living. Mainly an agricultural and fishing area, most Sungai Besar folk come from low-income to lower-middle income households. The booming modern paddy farming and eco-tourism industries may have made some people there really rich, but we wanted to hear from the people we thought would be affected the most by the Goods and Services Tax (GST).
“Sekarang ni harga barang sudah banyak mahal. Dulu sebelum kerajaan buat GST tak rasa susah sangat, tapi itu sudah naik, ini sudah naik, banyak susah oh. Sekarang kena banyak berkira mau beli barang makan, buku sekolah anak, bayar bil semua ada GST.” – Mahes.
“Memang berasa sikit lepas GST ni, tak boleh belanja banyak sangat. Tapi pakcik kesian dekat orang kampung, lagilah sakit. Tapi rasanya ramai aje kat kampung yang sokong BN lagi. Diorang tu kalau toreh badan dia, keluar darah biru.” – bubur lambuk Pakcik.
“Kita yang dekat kampung ni dulu tak merasa sangat. Tapi sekarang ni RM100 sehari pun boleh habis. Duit minyak, beli barang dapur, uruskan keluarga, buku untuk anak. Belum kira saya punya makan lagi!” – 33-year old Indian uncle in Sekinchan.
Throughout the constituency, almost everyone we talked to acknowledged that life is a bit tougher on their wallets these days. People who were the main breadwinners for their family told us about cutting monthly spending to cover everyone in their family. Interestingly, there were also some people here who did not know that the implementation of GST effectively raised the prices of most everyday goods.
3. Support for the parties are quite divided
“Macam sama je oren [referring to Amanah] dengan hijau [referring to PAS] ni. Orang-orang dia pun macam sama je. Tapi rasanya PAS (compared to Amanah) lagi kuat sekarang ni.” -bubur lambuk Pakcik
“Saya sokong YB yang sama macam YB Ng Suee Lim (DAP ADUN of Sekinchan).” -the fisherman from Sekinchan.
Most of the people we met in Sekinchan said that they would definitely vote for Amanah, as this is the party aligned with the one they support (DAP). What helped spread awareness about this relative new party was the fact that ADUN Ng Suee Lim himself has been joining the grassroots in meeting the voters in person. He is a very popular guy here and as you can see here his face is literally everywhere!
In Sungai Besar it was a different story. More people here are definitely pro-BN, but there is also a strong PAS following. A PAS candidate actually came quite close to winning the seat in last GE, only losing to the late Tan Sri Noriah by 399 votes. But that was a time when they were still buddies with DAP and PKR, and these two parties have moved on to helping Amanah. Well, most people in PKR anyway….
4. They get their news from the internet and kopitiam gossip
Having asked the voters in Sungai Besar about their main concerns leading up to the election, we wondered how which media outlets do they rely on for news. Mainstream newspapers and TV channels such as Utusan Malaysia, Berita Harian, RTM and TV3 almost always play up positive images of BN during election season.
Therefore, it wasn’t surprising to find out that most people in Sekinchan also access the internet for news. Even the fisherman we had a chat with smiled and pointed to his smartphone when I asked him where he gets his news from. Most of the people we talked to said that they still follow news from the mainstream sources but they also read online news portals that are more opposition-friendly such as Malaysiakini.
On the other hand, people from Sungai Besar town and the surrounding kampungs don’t really get their news from internet and rely mainly on Utusan and TV3. However, one source of (mostly unverified) news for folks here is the local coffee shop. After a long day at work, the guys will go “medang“, which is Javanese slang for “minum kopi sambil sembang” (also unverified).
As it is to urbanites, the minum kopi session is equally important to the rural folks to rant about politics and unpopular government policies. Unlike urban folk though, most of these people would probably not hear or read negative news about the government if they didn’t go medang. Apart from that, the older folks’ kids would be another source for alternative news. These are the more tech-savvy locals who leave Sungai Besar for better job opportunities in the Klang Valley and come back to their parents’ homes over the weekends. But as one of the pakciks quoted above said, this type of news is “ntah betul ntah tidak“.
How did BN do so well?
When the 1MDB news stories from The Sarawak Report, The Edge, and then The Wall Street Journal started coming out, there was a sense that PM Najib and his coalition would not hold on to power much longer. But as these huge victories show, nothing is certain in Malaysian politics. Looking at these results we can predict that the majority of rural votes outside of Kelantan at this point won’t be leaving BN anytime soon.
Accusations of giving out free stuff (which Pakatan was also guilty of) aside, BN did well in reinforcing their brand; almost everywhere you looked, from Sungai Besar to Sekinchan, the BN dacing was everywhere. We also talked earlier about the mainstream media being in favor of BN, and this had a hand in influencing those who rely mainly on TV3, Utusan and the like.
The Opposition, meanwhile, were up against the odds ever since PAS announced that it was also contesting against BN and also Amanah. If ugaiz think 3-corner fights mean a sure win for BN, one DAP MP thinks that even one-on-one contests against BN won’t guarantee an Opposition victory in the next GE. So what can the Opposition do? For a start, stop fighting among yourselves la. Even the Selangor PAS chief thinks its better for his party not to go at it alone in the next GE.
But for now, it’s time to take down all the flags and posters, and let the two newly-elected reps work for the rakyat!