Saturday January 26, 2013
Polls are near — very near
Talk has it that the polls could be held within the next two months leaving the contending parties with just enough time to reflect on whether they’ve done enough to win, especially in the rural areas.
SOME three Saturdays ago at my favourite watering hole in Kuching city, I was in the midst of an intense game of billiards when a group of young policemen charged in from the front and rear entrances.
They asked to see everyone’s MyKad. After jotting down our details and returning them, they left as promptly as they arrived.
“They were sent here from the Peninsula to help in the polls,” a friend said later, “They are conducting operations like this to familiarise themselves with the local environment and people.”
I lost that game of billiards miserably, but never mind that; the point is that there seems to be no escaping the polls for me!
I must admit that — like many of you — I have become weary of all the speculations of when the 13th general election would be held ever since they started way back in 2011.
That police ‘raid’, however, woke me right up and this time, I have a feeling that the polls are near — very near.
The term of the current Dewan Rakyat actually ends on April 27 this year, so the Prime Minister could wait until the automatic dissolution of the legislature that day and call the polls within 60 days. That would mean that the polls could be held in June at the latest.
However, there has been much talk that parliament could be dissolved late February with polling in March, perhaps in the first half of that month. This is what most political observers are banking on and all signs seem to be pointing in that direction.
According to a state BN leader, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak made it abundantly clear at the BN Supreme Council meeting in Kuala Lumpur last week that the 13th general election is “very, very near.”
Indeed, preparations among the state BN parties have intensified and tomorrow evening, Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin is expected to be given a briefing by the state coalition at the PBB headquarters.
It will be a closed door affair but we can expect the coalition leaders to talk about what difficulties they face and ultimately, how many seats they can deliver.
There should be no doubt as to how important it is for the BN in Sarawak and indeed Sabah to win as many seats as possible to help ensure that the ruling coalition stays in power, especially when the situation becomes dicey.
Out of 222 parliamentary seats in the country, 31 are in Sarawak and 25 in Sabah. The Sarawak BN now has 29 and Sabah BN has 20.
Altogether, BN currently holds 135 seats. The coalition component party with the most seats is UMNO with 77, followed by MCA with 15 and Sarawak’s own PBB 14.
Among the top three parties in the BN, it would not come as a surprise if PBB becomes the only one to deliver all its contested seats.
At the PBB election management committee meeting in Kuching on Jan 18, however, the party leaders were quite modest about talk that the party will win with a clean sweep.
PBB senior vice-president Datuk Amar Awang Tengah Ali Hasan told reporters later that for PBB it was not just about winning but to do it convincingly with an even bigger majority than in the previous polls. “We want to win big,” said Tengah.
As for the other state coalition parties, it might not be all smooth-sailing. PRS now has six parliamentary seats, SUPP has five and SPDP has four.
PRS president Tan Sri Dr James Masing recently told The Star that Sarawak and Sabah would remain the coalition’s fixed deposits during the polls.
He believed that the two states could deliver at least 45 seats and that the coalition risked losing five Chinese-majority urban seats in Sarawak.
Masing isn’t the only one who thinks that the Chinese-majority urban seats, which happen to be represented by SUPP, are in trouble.
SUPP will be defending Stampin, Serian, Sarikei, Lanang and Miri, and will attempt to wrest Bandar Kuching and Sibu from DAP. Some political observers believe that Serian might be the only safe seat for SUPP as it is also the party’s only Dayak-majority seat.
With time running out for SUPP, the party hasn’t quite overcome its internal rift and the odds are stacked high against them.
Now, speaking of Dayak-majority seats, they are expected to be where the real battles will be fought in Sarawak. In those seats which are mainly located in the rural areas, the BN will face new and old foes and even enemies from within.
Based on the electoral roll for the 2008 polls, there are perhaps 14 Dayak-majority seats and by that I mean seats where the Iban, Bidayuh or Orang Ulu form the majority together or individually. All of PRS’ seats are Dayak-majority; while for SPDP, three seats are Dayak seats with Bintulu voters split almost equally between Dayaks and non-Dayaks.
So it has to be asked: Has the Government done enough or perhaps too much for the Dayaks in rural Sarawak?
Yes, many of the rural issues might seem like bread and butter issues such as land ownership, infrastructure development and the provision of power and electricity. But when bread and butter are the only things a community has to count on to survive, these issues just can’t be taken lightly.
Recently, a former senior government officer announced that he was keen to contest in Sri Aman, one of PRS’ seats, claiming “the basic infrastructure issue in Sri Aman had not been resolved after 50 years of independence”.
Masing, however, is confident that his party will triumph in Sri Aman just as it will in Hulu Rajang and Lubok Antu where the Sarawak Workers Party is expected to put up a good fight.
A more recent issue in the rural areas would perhaps be the construction of dams, which has and will displace thousands of people such as in Baram.
SPDP is worried about the impact of the project on Baram, one of its four seats. Its president, Tan Sri William Mawan, has called for greater interaction with the residents there to quell their fears of the dam and to help them see the greater good that it would bring.
He told reporters last August that the people there were worried that they would face the same problems as those faced by the people in Bakun, some of whom until today are still grousing over their resettlement.
“If the area is inundated, people will be displaced but I believe they can accept it if they can find a better life,” he said optimistically.
And in the final analysis, isn’t that also why we all cast our votes — the search for a better life?