In a shocking revelation, an Umno insider has disclosed that BN has 'already conceded 13 seats to Pakatan Rakyat' in the Sarawak election.KUCHING: Harsh reality is raining down on Umno-led Barisan Nasional (BN) which is swamping Sarawak in the run-up to the April 16 polls.
Over the weekend, Umno members began descending on Sarawak to “teach” their East Malaysian counterparts, namely Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB), “how to campaign”.
Alongside Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, his deputy Muhyiddin Yassin and several Cabinet members, they are focusing on the Malay and rural areas having apparently “given up” on the possibility of winning the urban seats.
Allegedly armed with funding for “scheduled” development projects, they are criss-crossing the state on a back-to-back basis with Chief Minister Taib Mahmud’s team to ensure that voters have a “top of mind” recall of BN.
Today the police fraternity will cast their votes. Thursday is the military’s turn. There are 18,000 postal voters in Sarawak.
In this politically stretching polls, postals votes will be Barisan Nasional’s safety net in a contest for supremacy which is expected to deliver hairline victories in many pockets.
According to an Umno insider, the party has “already conceded 13 seats to the Pakatan Rakyat” in the run-up to the 10th Sarawak election.
“This is unheard of. It’s a bad sign. Now the mountain has moved to Sarawak.
“Najib’s favourite number is 11. The number resembles the Muslim tombstone. One at the head and the other at the feet.
“If he is not careful, he will the the last Umno PM,” the insider said.
Taib and religion
Sounding an alarm, the insider added that Najib and team had been “reading Sarawak all wrong”.
“They’ve underestimated the Taib issue. People are not againt BN. There is only Taib and religion.
“Because Najib dares not decide, Umno is now playing its own game,” said the insider alluding to independent candidate Salleh Jafaruddin in Balingian.
Salleh is up against beleagured incumbent Taib. Both Salleh and Taib are cousins with a bitter political history that dates back to the mid-1980s.
In 1987, Salleh was involved in a widely reported attempt, allegedly instigated by their uncle Rahman Yakub, who was then the governor, to overthrow Taib. Taib was then the Chief Minister.
According to the insider, Umno wants an inroad into Sarawak and Salleh is seen as a route in.
Salleh, the insider alleged, was handed RM3 milllion “to work with”.
Salleh is in a three-cornered fight in Balingian. PKR has fielded local businesswoman Suriati Abdullah as its candidate.
Movement of Change Sarawak (MoCS), which endorsed Salleh, has been urging PKR to withdraw on the grounds that both MoCS and PKR shared a common aspiration to field “winnable” candidates and end Taib’s reign.
While Sarawak PKR chief Baru Bian is receptive to the idea, PKR central leadership, however, is said to be distrusting of Salleh.
Battle by default
In this epic battle by default between Umno and PKR all “independent” candidants are being viewed as Umno’s covert operation to ensure BN retains its two-thirds majority one way or another.
On BN’s radar is said to be Parti Cinta Malaysia (PCM) which is contesting six seats in the interior and a handful of candidates in other areas in Sarawak’s 71 constituencies.
PCM chief Huan Cheng Guan, who was formerly a Gerakan vice-president, was quoted in FMT yesterday as saying, “We chose to contest in the interior constituencies because our candidates are local-born and have vast grassroots support.
“They are community-service people, not social activists or politicians.”
He also dismissed PKR, saying “its leaders are only good at making promises but never delivering them”.
Meanwhile, a BN source here said more peninsula-based Umno members will be arriving in Sarawak in the coming days to counter PKR and PAS’ campaigns in the Malay and rural areas.
“Our ground reports are worrying. We’ve lost just over 30% support for BN in the rural Dayak areas.
“The report has also indicated that it could drop another 10% to 15% in the coming days if the opposition moves into the rural areas.
“Our job is to stop the drop. We are here to convince voters that it is Najib’s BN that they are voting for and not Taib,” said the source.
The source also warned that BN’s popularity with the Malays, who mainly live on the urban fringe, too had dropped drastically.
Malays make up 28% of Sarawak’s population.
PAS in five seats
PAS, which first stepped foot in Sarawak in 1996, is cashing in on Malay disatisfaction with Malay-Melanau Taib. Malays here feel that Taib has ostracised them.
In this election, PAS is contesting in five constituencies.
The party will be fielding its candidates in Beting Maro, Sebuyau, Sadong Jaya, Muara Tuang and Tanjong Datu.
This is PAS’ second stab at the state polls. In 2006, it unsuccessfully contested in three seats.
But this time around, PAS is confident and believes it has earned itself many loyal supporters.
Speculations are rife that PAS will take Beting Maro and Sebuyau with Sadong Jaya offering an even chance.
In 2006, PKR contested in Sebuyau and Sadong Jaya.
According to state secretary Fizwan Zaidi, BN won all three seats by a less than 900-vote majority.
He said in Beting Maro (incumbent) Bolhassan Di (BN) beat Alem Din (PAS) by just over 800 votes.
This time PAS is fielding women candidates in Muara Tuang and Tanjong Datu.
Nani Sahari is in Tanjung Dato and Noraini Hayati in Muara Tuang.
“We know our strength and are focused on winning these seats. Tajung Dato and Muara Tuang are new for us.
“We just started these branches but we have good women supporters and are confident of our chances,” he said.
Going into its seventh day of campaigning, the two opposition parties that stand apart from the rest are DAP and PAS.
From the onset, their honest evaluation of their “winnability” has kept them above the squabbling herd.
DAP is contesting in 15 seats and expects to ride on last May’s Sibu by-election groundswell and the Chinese hatred of Taib to win these seats.
For the Chinese community in Sarawak, land is not the primary issue.
Their bigger issue is with Sarawak United Peoples’ Party (SUPP) whom they say has sold its soul to “corrupt” Taib and is no longer able to look after the interest of the community.
“George Chan’s (SUPP president) daughter marrying Taib’s son (Sulaiman) was the final nail. Chinese here are big on honour, filialness and blood ties. The honourable Chan should have stepped down then,” quipped a local journalist here
Given the massive “not seen before” turnout in DAP ceramahs in Kuching, Miri and Sibu, and the united shouts for change, a conservative estimate would be that DAP will walk away with at least 10 seats. In the 2006 polls, the party won six seats.
SUPP, meanwhile, is well aware that its performance in this election will determine the future of its existence as a politically relevant party.
If rumours are to be believed, the party is simply “staring death in the face”.
Attachment to BN
In rural Sarawak, the hardest battle is breaking their “sentimental attachment to BN”, according to PAS treasurer Dr Hatta Ramli.
Hatta’s observation sank in well with a retired policeman from a longhouse community in Simanggang.
According to him, 80% of Ibans live in the rural areas of Sarawak.
“They don’t care about how rich Taib is. They accept Taib at face value. If Taib says he will help them they accept. If Taib says he cares about them, they believe him.
“Life for them is simple. When we take our urban standards into the rural areas we are shocked, but they accept their lot. They are thankful to Taib.”
A little known secret is that Taib has seven political secretaries to look into the needs of the Iban, Bidayuh, Melanau, Chinese, Malay and Orang Ulu communities in the state.
According to another retiree who served in the building where the CM’s office is sited, Taib regularly updated himself with the needs of each community.
“The political secretaries give him weekly updates and deal with the needs of the communities. Taib was always concerned and gave the villagers what they needed.
“They are happy,” said the state officer.