Journalists based in Miri have a distinct advantage over their counterparts working in the rest of Sarawak when it comes to planning for a holiday during an election year.
They can possibly “read” into the prevailing political climate just before the start of a parliamentary or state polls, and then make bookings for a vacation, possibly very soon after nomination day because the chances of a no-contest against Barisan Nasional is so great here.
Even if the “readings” indicate that there would be a contest, journalists here merely have to postpone their trip till immediately after polling because the results are almost a foregone conclusion. It will still be a Barisan victory.
Unlike in other regions in Sarawak where opposition parties have the likelihood of springing a surprise, Miri has developed into a fortress for Barisan, one that is so solid that it seems quite impossible for opposition parties to penetrate.
Barisan has not lost the Miri parliamentary seat since 1982. The margin of victory by Barisan against the opposition parties and independent candidates seems to get bigger and bigger with each subsequent election.
Ever since Tan Sri Dr George Chan Hong Nam joined the leadership of the Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP) in the 1982 general election, the Barisan component party in Miri has always won by a landslide.
The margin of victory garnered by Barisan in the Miri parliamentary seat has always exceeded 5,000 votes for the past six general elections, culminating in SUPP winning uncontested in the 2004 parliamentary polls.
At the state elections level, Barisan have reigned supreme since 1974. Barisan has not lost any state constituencies in Miri division since then, a proud record spanning 30 years.
Dr Chan, who became SUPP president in 1996, believed it is the performance of Barisan elected representatives in Miri that had helped ensure the ruling party score resounding victories in every election.
“We (Barisan leaders) don’t only work during election time. We work especially hard after the elections,” was his favourite quote.
SUPP organising secretary Datuk Peter Chin Fah Kui, who is MP for Miri and Federal Minister for Plantation Industries and Commodities, believed that it is important for Barisan leaders to be always on the alert for issues that affect the people, and to deal with these issues sensibly and sensitively.
“For example, the relocation of the squatters in Miri is a very sensitive issue. We have had to explain gently to the squatters why we need to resettle them, that it is important for the state and also for their own good and the future of their families.
“We used a policy of gentle persuasion over a period of years and explained in a way which justifies the move to relocate them. We give good alternatives in terms of relocation scheme and low-cost homes, which is a good solution that satisfies all the affected parties.
“We must show sincere and genuine concern to help resolve the people's problems all the time,” said Chin.
Indeed, as Chin pointed out, one of the most important factor for the strong support for Barisan in Miri – a division with a population of 300,000 – is because Barisan leaders have a track record of swiftly responding and dealing with issues that affect the public.
For example, the recent haze that hit Miri saw Dr Chan, Chin and Senadin state assemblyman Lee Kim Shin (SUPP supreme council member and former youth chief) responding with urgent moves to tackle the issue before it escalated beyond control.
A quick look around Miri will show that this place has developed in a well and organised manner.
Miri has virtually zero unemployment. It has good public amenities; enough houses even for the low-income earners, schools are aplenty, including Chinese and mission schools.
There are good racial relationships among the 19 ethnic and sub-ethnic groups residing here, with everyone given plenty of chances to earn a decent living, a matter of their own competitive edge to make headway in business.
People of Miri are mostly migrants who have come to make this place their home, and they are not easily swayed by political issues because their main concern is to earn a decent living and live a content life.
Because of this, politicians from the ruling coalition can focus more steadfastly on socio-economic agendas and not being sidetracked by political concerns.
This ensures they can deliver the goodies to the rakyat constantly, which in turn strengthen Barisan even further and make it increasingly difficult for the opposition with each subsequent election.
He has seen it allMiri's growth accelerated in the 1980s and this coincided with the time Barisan Nasional wrestled control of the constituency here.
According to 63-year-old Lee Nan Hiung, the stability brought about by the Barisan victory gave the confidence to the business community to come here.
“Banks, big retail companies, vehicle companies, road and housing construction companies, land developing and agriculture companies started flowing into Miri in the early parts of the 1980s,” said Lee, who is an office assistant at the Sarawak United People’s Party headquarters here.
He denies that his views are bias just because he works for a component party as the facts speaks for itself.
“The real turning point was in 1982 when Tan Sri Dr George Chan won in Miri. From then on, Barisan kept winning and all kinds of development continued to flow in.
“Before that, the only investors were the oil and timber giants,” said Lee, a jovial man who smiles a lot and behave and look much younger than his age.
Lee, who has lived here all his life, is a walking encyclopaedia of Miri. He remembers very minute details from the good old days just like as though it was yesterday.
“The roads inside Miri village were so bad that even bicycles got stuck as the roads were only made of sand.
“There were only a few rows of sundry shops during my schooldays. Most of the workers were outsiders coming here to work in the oil and timber companies,” he said.
Lee said that about a decade ago, big commercial centres started mushrooming, until today there are eight different commercial centres within the city itself.
Asked what is unique about Miri, Lee said it was the way all ethnic groups seem to get a fair share of the goodies here.
“Schooling facilities are very good. Chinese schools are aplenty, so are mission schools and national government schools.
“Medical services have improved a lot. This I saw with my own eyes but there is still a need for improvement because of the fast expanding population.
“Miri also has facilities for people of all faiths,” he said.
Lee foresees that Miri would become even more vibrant following the attainment of city status but hoped that this city would not end up with the negatives that have infected so many other cities that ignored the human side of development.
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