Sarawak PKR information chief and candidate for the Batu Lintang seat, lawyer See Chee How, has told Malaysiakini that Kuching voters are being offered between RM100 and RM200 for their votes in the upcoming state polls.
“We are fighting an uphill battle, because we heard that they are buying votes in Stutong, in the market and the nearby area. So it’s not going to be easy.
“We have (reports from) people who were offered money for their votes. We heard this when we were visiting the market this morning. The hawkers refused to give their ICs (to the people offering bribes). I don’t know to what extent that might affect the voting on April 16.”
See described similar tactics being employed in Pending, another constituency nearby, where incumbent DAP lawyer Violet Yong is facing a challenge from Sarawak United People’s Party candidate, Dr Sim Kui Hian.
“One particular woman was offered RM100 in Stutong, but Violet told me that in her area, some were offered RM200 per vote. They did not make reports to the police or the Election Commission, because these are hawkers and these are people who would not go and approach the police.”
See observed drily that the alleged vote-buying contrasted sharply with claims by his opponent Sih Hua Tong that Sih would stand up against corruption in the government, if SUPP recaptures Batu Lintang.
Sih’s open letter to voters stirred up some confusion, on both sides of the political divide. He made a bizarre promise to be “fearless and not to succumb to any pressure from the authorities” and to “fight endlessly and tirelessly towards the eradication of all forms of corruption and abuse of power within and outside the government”.
At the same time, SUPP leaders have been vehemently refuting allegations that Chief Minister Taib Mahmud is corrupt, and have been insisting that the international reports are lies.
“This makes Sih appear to be a very insincere person, because he has been a private political secretary to Chief Minister Taib for so many years. We ask him to show us his report card, what he has done for the anti-corruption (effort) and to check abuse of power,” the PKR candidate said.
“Being the political secretary, an agent of Taib Mahmud, I’m sure he cannot deliver what he promised in his letter to the voters. He knows that corruption is rampant.”
See reiterated Pakatan’s campaign message, calling for a change of Taib’s regime.
Pakatan Rakyat has been exploiting Taib’s lack of popularity in urban areas. Taib’s extraordinary wealth, and the allegations that his family thrived on suspect land deals and timber concessions during his three decades in power, have caused unease throughout the SUPP ranks.
“The contest in Batu Lintang is not really us against Sih Hua Tong, but Pakatan against BN, and our fight against Taib,” See asserted.
SUPP president Dr George Chan (left) and Sih have been trying to protect the BN and Taib, he went on.
“Obviously they’re not doing a good job,” he said with a hint of a smile.
Deserted in droves
See, a respected land rights lawyer, was dismissive of Taib’s recent promise in Sibu to extend urban land leases for 10 years for a nominal fee of RM1.
Taib conceded this proposed reduction of charges in an attempt to quell a rebellion among urban voters over the spiraling costs of paying to renew the land leases for their properties.
Despite the high charges, many land leases only run for 60 years. Following this, the state takes over the land.
As a consequence, urban voters deserted the SUPP in droves in 2006. Government takeovers of private land for so-called ‘development’, made compulsory under the controversial Section 47 of the Land Code, further fuelled voters’ anger.
The DAP and PKR have capitalised on these land issues, with some success, as an abuse of Taib’s wide-ranging powers as minister for planning and natural resources. One recent example was in Bako, less than an hour’s drive from Kuching.
“Why would you want to go for Taib’s promise when we all know that he cannot deliver on his promises?” See maintained.
“He said he wants to make Sarawak the richest state if BN is given the mandate again. We say no.
“Thirty years ago, you inherited one of the richest states and you turned it into one of the poorest states. How can we trust you now, if you are given another two years or three years, when you say you are going to turn Sarawak into the richest state? That’s rubbish.”
Pakatan has pledged that if it is elected, renewal of land leases would be automatic, and would run for 99 years, and not the usual 60 years as is current practice. If land is taken over under Section 47 and is not used, as in Bako, the acquisition would automatically lapse after two years, See explained.
Pakatan’s manifesto also promises a Land Reform Commission to protect native customary rights to land.
See emphasised that land reform is a state-wide political issue, relevant to all 71 seats being contested in the election, urban and rural alike.
“Taib doesn’t care whether you’re Chinese, you’re Malay, you’re Iban, he just takes the land as he wants it. Our figures show his family, his BN cronies, his relatives and friends have taken 1.5 million ha of land in Sarawak now,” he said.
Sarawak’s land area covers 12.4 million ha, most of it mountainous.
“Land-grabs are colour blind,” he concluded.