Sarawak Votes 2016: Observations

Elections are always colourful affairs. Posters, buntings, banners adorn every possible corner. Political speeches better known as ceramah bring out the best and worst in most aspirants for political office.

Pamphlets and leaflets succinctly seek to explain the hopes and aspirations of candidates and political parties. Mascots also have started to slowly take shape and are gaining popularity. Taglines are fretted over by political operatives to ensure it is catchy and captivating.

Contrary to popular belief, campaigns are serious work. I have had the opportunity to be part of a number of campaigns myself and I can attest to the fact that it is tough work.

However, before we do any of the above, political parties must first have a manifesto, a coherent and comprehensive direction and strategy and most importantly good candidates who can carry the aspirations of the people and further the political struggle of the party or coalition.

I have spent a number of days in Sarawak experiencing first hand the ongoing state election. I have observed some marked difference compared to how campaigns are conducted in West Malaysia.

In Sarawak, campaigns are less intense and very collegiate. Candidates do not mercilessly attack their opponents for fear that it will alienate Sarawak voters who are not only discerning but eschew any form of hard sell and personal attacks.

Second, it is actually rather enjoyable. 

The people of Sarawak are generous, open-hearted and welcoming. Even though some may not have much, they do their level best to ensure that guests like me feel right at home.

Third, even the opposition in Sarawak is pretty well-behaved.

They do not engage in needless theatrics and showmanship. There is a real possibility of intelligent exchange and debate. In fact, the Chief Minister’s decision to bar certain politicians from West Malaysia from taking part in the campaign is a good decision to ensure that do not upend the harmonious climate in Sarawak.

Conventional wisdom dictates that after the election, these politicians will leave but leaving behind a trail of hurt feelings and divisiveness that is antithesis to the way of life in Sarawak.

But the campaign has not been smooth sailing for the opposition pact.

This is the first time that Pakatan Harapan is being tested. However, from the looks of it, they have failed the test miserably. By contesting against one another in six state seats, they have shown they lack the coherence and consistency to be a viable alternative to Barisan Nasional.

Besides squabbling over seats, another opposition party, PAS has come out to say that they want Pakatan Harapan defeated by all means whilst forgetting that they remain part of the state government of Selangor. So it makes even the most insouciant political observer wonder, what the hell is going on?

On the Barisan side, despite differences between the parties and two splinter parties, the chief minister, Tan Sri Adenan Satem, has employed well honed political wisdom to create the necessary space to ensure that all Barisan parties and Barisan-friendly parties are accommodated to ensure the common interest prevails and Barisan performs well.

Barisan, whether nationally or in Sarawak, is bound by a common value system with a written constitution to govern itself.

This is unlike the opposition motley crew and shifting alliances predicated on pure political opportunism. Hence, once the opportunism runs out so the use of the alliance.

Such arrangements are not only unworkable but outrightly dangerous and will harm the social, political and economic stability of the country.
Sarawak Barisan has released a manifesto that balances the aspirations the urban and rural work promising sustainable development especially in the rural areas and developing the state’s infrastructure especially the Pan-Borneo Highway that will be toll-free.

Beyond that, Sarawak will also be able to unlock its natural potential and ensure that it reaches a parity in development to West Malaysia.
I am certain Sarawak Barisan will do well come May 7 polling and Adenan will continue with his agenda to transform Sarawak, and with a strong partner in the form of Federal Government led by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, I am certain that Sarawak’s best days have yet to arrive.

I do hope the people of Sarawak will send a clear message to the opposition that they will no longer be pawns in the political chicanery and will punish them for failing not only to present an alternative but for failing to be an effective and coherent opposition.

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Ivanpal Singh Grewal

Ivanpal Singh Grewal

Ivanpal Singh Grewal is an Advocate & Solicitor. He was formerly Political Secretary to the Minister of Plantation Industries & Commodities.


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