THE 11th Sarawak election kicked off on Monday. Nearly a week into the campaign, here are some things we have learnt so far.
1. There’s a record number of candidates but Barisan Nasional still won two seats uncontested on nomination day.
In this most crowded of elections, 229 candidates entered the field, resulting in 45 multi-cornered fights, including five-way contests in five seats and 12 four-cornered battles. The candidates comprise 82 from Barisan, 40 from PKR, 31 from DAP, 13 from Amanah, 11 each from PAS and State Reform Party, five from PBDS Baru and 36 independents.
Amid these numbers, Barisan picked up Bukit Kota and Bukit Sari without a fight. PKR’s candidate for Bukit Sari did not show up at the nomination centre, while somehow none of the opposition parties named a candidate for Bukit Kota.
2. Pakatan Harapan needs a serious think about where it is headed.
PKR and DAP are going up against each other in six seats after failing to reach an agreement over long-standing overlapping claims, leading to a blame game by both parties immediately after nomination.
Before writing off Pakatan as a coalition, it should be remembered that the number of seats PKR and DAP managed to agree on is a lot more than the six they are clashing in. It really is up to voters now to decide who they want to represent them, but the Pakatan partners need to decide how to continue working together post-election. They will have no choice but to set aside their differences and be prepared for the difficult task of coalition-building if they want to present themselves as a viable political alternative to the people.
3. Watch out for proxy fights.
Pakatan’s clashes are well documented but Barisan is facing infighting as well, especially in those seats involving SUPP-UPP and SPDP-Teras tussles. Ex-members of UPP, SPDP and even PBB are contesting as independents in some of these seats, essentially coming in as spoilers vying for the Barisan vote.
How all this will play out remains to be seen but it makes for a number of intriguing battles.
4. New ways of campaigning are a breath of fresh air.
Besides the usual walkabouts, meet-and-greets and ceramah, some candidates have come up with innovative ways to reach constituents. For instance, See Chee How, the PKR candidate in Batu Lintang, stopped by a kopitiam in Poh Kwong Park to play Chinese chess and will meet locals to watch a football match at a restaurant tomorrow night.
Meanwhile, Tan Sri Adenan Satem not only continues to serenade crowds with Cliff Richard and Elvis Presley songs, he is also engaging journalists in meet-the-press sessions billed as “no-holds-barred”, where he may speak on any subject and reporters may ask questions. Hopefully, this engagement will continue after the election, with the state government willing to be open to scrutiny for greater accountability.
5. It’s not enough to have flags and posters, you’ve got to have a mascot too.
This election could well go down as a battle of the mascots. DAP started the trend in 2011 with Ubah, its instantly recognisable hornbill with the oversized beak. Well, Ubah – who’s been upgraded to a warrior – now has Adil the blue rhino, Ooh Ha the hawk and a bee (which lacks a nickname, alas) for company. Adil is the PKR mascot, the hawk is UPP’s and the yellow-and-black bee belongs to SUPP.
In the grand scheme of things, the mascots might seem trivial, but they’re cute and add a light touch to the serious work of campaigning. Oh, and they make nice souvenirs.