Isnin, 28 Mac 2011

Dayak dilemma in state polls

Religion and development are expected to be on the minds of Sarawak's bumiputera voters as the state heads into election campaign from nomination day on April 6.

But at this point, it is still anyone's guess as to which of these factors will have larger sway come polling day on April 16.

azlanFor Sarawakian political scientist James Chin, the outcry over the 'Al Kitab' impoundment and rubber-stamping will trump any doubt that the largely Christian bumiputera population will have about voting against BN.

“The Bible issue is a very big one, especially among the evangelist Christians. The bumiputera community makes up half of the Christian congregation in Sarawak,” he said.

NONEAccording to Chin (left), most of the Iban, Orang Ulu and Bidayuh, all of which make up a group referred to as the Dayak, are Christian and religion is a very large part of their lives.

Half of the 56 bumiputera seats have a majority of Dayak voters, while the other half are seats with a Malay-Melanau majority. The latter community is mainly Muslim, although some Melanau are Christians.

“If a preacher or pastor takes an activist stand, he can influence opinions. He doesn't need to tell the congregation who to vote for but he can send his message by telling a parable, for example,” said the Monash University lecturer.

He added that, while this was absent in the 2006 Sarawak election, it was seen in the Sibu by-election, where the impoundment of the 'Al Kitab' was a sore point and led to DAP's victory.

While fellow Sarawakian Jeneri Amri agrees that the 'Al Kitab' issue is a political hot potato that has caused “unhappiness”, he is uncertain if it can undo decades of propaganda and politics of fear and patronage.

According to the political scientist and University Malaysia Sarawak lecturer, there have been previous cases where roads leading to a longhouse which voted for the opposition were not paved and light bulbs were removed from lamp posts.

“There is fear of punishment. They know what is at stake…longhouses will suffer. For the tuai rumah, it also risks their allowance of RM800 a month,” he said, describing the community's dependency on the government.

Tuai rumah, local activists and other grassroots leaders, just like pastors, have a strong impact on political opinions and voting patterns, he noted.

Politics of fear also pervade the Malay-Melanau communities, Jeneri said, who feel they are vulnerable as an ethnic minority in Sarawak. Malays make up 19.24 percent of Sarawak voters.

“They would feel that the only way to secure their position is to keep BN in power,” he said.

Young and 'unafraid' voters

The young and educated, said Chin, are less fearful of going against the status quo, but the majority of them reside outside their constituencies.

Jeneri estimates that there are about 40,000 from the Iban community in Johor Bahru alone, with many others in the Klang Valley and further afield in Saudi Arabia. Rural-urban migration within Sarawak has also been rising steadily.

Field research by Japanese researcher Ryoji Soda in Kanowit and Sibu from 1996-2000 found that those who migrate to urban centres retain their registration in their respective hometowns and go back to vote in the hope of attracting development there.

This will be more difficult for those who have migrated from Sarawak, given that the cost of flight tickets from the peninsula runs into hundreds of ringgit.

Even if they are absent, Jeneri said the influence of the young and educated on their communities at home should not be underestimated.

“News is brought home during Christmas or Gawai and ideas of change are often discussed at randau (a dialogue in the longhouses).

“But political literacy is very low. Pakatan Rakyat cannot come with abstract ideas of good governance and other intangibles. It's about basic needs and bread-and-butter issues.”
It is for thiazlans reason that Iban professor of politics Jayun anak Jawan disagrees with Chin that allegations of corruption surrounding Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud (left) - and which are emerging as a major Pakatan Rakyat campaign point - will sway the Dayak especially in the interior.

“The rural voters are and have been very practical and that the things most dear to them are bread-and-butter issues. Alleged corruption, nepotism, etc, are still quite abstract issues to these 'displaced' rural voters,” said the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia lecturer.

For many in the interior, he said, the government is synonymous with BN and they consider that a leader should be rich and powerful to be able to provide them with assistance.

In the study in Kanowit and Sibu, Soda found that the “Iban in the study area do not view elections as a way to make their opinions reflected in Parliament or state assembly, but rather as an opportunity to demonstrate their pro-government support to extract economic benefit”.

“This perception has led the Iban to conclude that, in order to obtain their share of subsidies and public funding, they must assume a subservient attitude toward the government,” he said.
Not even seemingly popular Sarawak NONEPKR chief Baru Bian (right) will be able to garner the support Pakatan will need to take the much coveted two-thirds majority in the state legislative assembly.
“Touting (Baru) as the next chief minister should the opposition win is the biggest failure of the opposition and PKR in the state (as well as) the peninsula-based leaders, in understanding the sentiments in Sarawak,” he said.

Baru may be popular in certain quarters as a champion of native customary rights to land, said Jawan, but he is largely unknown especially among the rural Iban.

Jeneri agreed, also saying that Baru is not very popular among the Malay-Melanau either.
Change is likely in seats like Ba'kelalan - which Baru will contest - and Pelagus and Ngemah, which appear shaky for BN.
However, most of the Bumiputera-majority seats are still expected to go to to BN.
“The opposition can be proud of itself if it can wrest about three seats away at the most,” added Jayum.

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