Local Issues Cost BN Sibu Seat

Malaysian Digest
SIBU, 18 MAY, 2010: Barisan Nasional’s failure to retain its stronghold in Sibu in Sunday’s by-election in the parliamentary constituency may be surprising for outsiders but not for locals who had made up their minds much earlier and showed their displeasure by casting their votes against the BN.
Many Sibuans had not been happy with certain local political leaders whom they felt had been ineffective in addressing their woes and powerless to resolve longstanding issues.
They were clearly unhappy over the declining economic situation in this riverine town which serves as a gateway to a vast hinterland and has led to more and more people having to search for employment elsewhere in other cities and countries.
“I don’t understand why we in Sibu which has plenty of land are unable to bring in investment to create more jobs for the locals. We have been losing out all this while. What we know is some politicians homes have become bigger and bigger,” said a taxi driver who only wanted to be known by the surname of Wong.
Apart from this, he said the people want to see more education institutions set up in Sibu, regardless of whether they were just a branch campuses or a full institutes as this would relieve locals the cost of having to send their children to study at other places.
“It doesn’t matter to us whether Sibu gets just branches of major educational institutions or full colleges or a university. What we want is to be spared the cost of having to send our children to pursue their tertiary education elsewhere. If Miri and Kuching can do that, why not Sibu?,” he said.
Kuching and Samarahan have University Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS) branch campuses and some other branches of private universities and colleges while Miri has a branch of Curtin University.
It is not surprising that the deciding factor in the Sibu by-election turned out to be the urban votes, and not the rural votes which have consistently been favourable to the BN in the last three consecutive elections.
This time around, there was a swing of votes to the DAP when the ballot boxes in urban polling stations were opened. At the end of counting, the votes the DAP candidate Wong Ho Leng received were more than double of the SUPP’s Robert Lau Hui Yew, who stood for the BN.
The opposition’s victory proved to be extra sweet for the DAP as 28 years had passed since it last won the seat when Ling Sie Ming beat SUPP’s Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Dr Wong Soon Kai.
Despite the downpour on the night the results were announced, thousands of DAP supporters had turned up at the vote tallying centre at the Sibu Civic Centre here to cheer their winning candidate.
According to Sarawak-born political analyst Professor James Chin, the voters had sent a clear message to the state leadership that they wanted to see drastic changes.
Chin said another factor (contributing to the BN defeat) was that urban voters, mostly Chinese, were beginning to expect more from the SUPP, which they perceived was a party that had not changed and unable to look after the aspirations of younger voters.
The Monash academician said the outcome of the by-election was an indicator of the increasing political awareness among urban voters.
Another political analyst, Dr Jeniri Amir said the results showed that the BN had not done enough to win the hearts and minds of the people, particularly the Chinese.
“BN has to empathise with the feelings of Sibuans, particulary the Chinese and show that its is sincere in wanting to provide long-term solutions to their problems.
“Feelings matter and the coalition has to tread carefully where this aspect is concerned so that actions that it takes towards helping people, particularly urban people, are not viewed negatively. Winning hearts and minds is paramount,” he said when contacted.
This was particulary on local issues like unemployment, flood mitigation matters and the issue of Native Customary Rights land, which were the main concerns of voters here, said Jeniri.
Probably what the BN needs most now as pointed out by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak is that it needs to rise up with a new spirit and fortitude to wrest back the seat in the next general election.
In this by-election, the BN’s strength in rural areas was intact as its traditional supporters were still with the coalition. It can also take comfort in that despite the major swing in urban voters, 32 per cent of the Chinese voters still voted for the BN.
Wong polled 18,845 votes to win the contest by a 398-vote majority, defeating Hui Yew who polled 18,447 votes and Independent candidate Narawi Haron who only managed 232 votes and lost his deposit.
Najib, who was in Sibu on several occasions during the campaign, had noted that among the factors for the defeat was the approach adopted by the BN’s machinery, which he said was still following the old ways of campaigning.
He said there should have been a more creative and energetic approach to the campaign.
– Bernama