It was a major surprise to many! Sarawak politics is no longer predictable.
With the inroads made by the opposition, especially the DAP, it is now clear that the Chinese are sending a strong message to the Barisan Nasional state government. They had enough!
What is only predictable now is that the BN will win and form the government. No one doubted that. With their massive machinery and unlimited resources, the BN will probably continue to rule the state and country for many more years to come.
What surprised many in the just-concluded state election, and probably those in the BN in particular, is that they had never expected such a swing from the Chinese electorate, especially in Kuching.
That such well known and seasoned candidates, including two assistant ministers and a mayor, from the 50-year-old Supp can lose four of its seats in Kuching to political novices from the DAP, is anything but shocking!
While Padungan has always been seen as a ‘grey’ area for the BN, Pending, Batu Lintang and the new seat of Kota Sentosa have been considered ‘safe’ for Supp. Supp has been ‘untouchable’ in these seats for the past two decades or more.
Assistant Minister and Supp secretary general Sim Kheng Hui was defeated in Pending, the stronghold of his late uncle and former deputy chief minister Sim Kheng Hong. Who would have imagined that he would lose the ‘family’s crown jewel’ to a DAP newcomer, 29-year-old Violet Yong.
Batu Lintang has been Chan Seng Khai’s fortress since 1991. Even former Sarawak DAP strongman Sim Kwang Yang was defeated in Batu Lintang. In subsequent elections in 1996 and 2001, Chan who is mayor of Kuching City South scored overwhelming victories over his opponents. That Voon Lee Shan of the DAP could unseat him with more than 3000-vote majority this time is a total surprise.
In Kota Sentosa, the sleepy town outside Kuching famed for its hospital for the mentally handicapped, Supp’s Alfred Yap must have thought that the electorate there are all mentally unsound. The assistant minister was dumped in favour of DAP’s Chong Chieng Jen. Yap, a long-time aide of former Supp deputy president the late Chong Kiun Kong, also took over from his mentor as the paramount chief of the Hakkas in Batu Kawah.
PKR’s Dominique Ng, a former DAP member, managed to win Padungan on his third attempt.
The hard-working human rights lawyer came face to face with the equally strong workaholic Supp wanita leader Lily Yong. Among all the Chinese seats in Kuching, Padungan has always been a touch-and-go affair and Ng’s victory was not altogether unexpected.
The defeat of Supp candidates in Kuching was particularly humiliating when they lost by big margins of several thousand votes.
This was the first time Chinese voters in Kuching swing to the opposition in such huge numbers. In Kidurong, Bintulu and Bukit Assek, Sibu, the voters there have been quite ‘predictable’ in voting in and out Supp and DAP people. In Meradong, down the mighty Rejang River from Sibu, the victory of DAP’s Ting Tzu Hui was more a result of Supp’s internal strife than anything else.
Now, why did the voters of Kuching swing all the way? What was the cause of such high anti-establishment sentiments among them?
As Supp leaders in Kuching start licking their wounds in the days ahead, they must ponder on one major issue which the opposition has been harping on - what power do Supp leaders have in the power-sharing concept of the BN state government?
It became clear to the urban and more sophisticated voters that many of them could not get things done through their elected representatives. Many are said to be angry at the limited or no business opportunities for them. Government contracts, big or small, are known to be reserved for only an elite group of people.
At the centre of it all is the dominant presence of the larger-than-life Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud. Perhaps, many Chinese in Kuching are starting to believe that a man must not be in power for too long. Perhaps, they are now telling him that he has overstayed his welcome and that it is time for a transition of power to a new state chief executive.
The BN must be congratulated for its resilience in winning the majority votes from the people of Sarawak. They should be happy that the majority of Sarawakians still support the BN government.
But they should bear in mind this message from the Kuching Chinese delivered in the just-concluded election.
When the people are pushed to the wall, when the people are angry without opportunities for survival, they will fight back.
Today, they did...and with good reasons.