Sibu by election: The order to win
By Stanley Bye Kadam Kiai
The Sibu by-election on May 16 is going to be contested by two sworn adversaries in Chinese politics in Sarawak – the SUPP of the BN and the DAP of the Pakatan Rakyat.
There is no love lost between the two Chinese-based political parties when it comes to protecting and promoting the issues that affect Chinese interests in the state.
The two protagonists in Chinese politics in the state both want to be the champion of the people and they will fight tooth and nail in this by-election to maintain an upper hand and gain ascendancy over the political processes and politics in Sibu.
The SUPP has a head start in this contest and is still favoured to retain the Sibu parliamentary seat for the BN as it had won the seat in the last five general elections with a substantial majority.
But a marginal swing to the opposition from those who cast their votes in the 2008 election could be a major cause for concern for the BN as this can lead to a DAP’s victory.
Are those who voted in the 2008 federal election going to be affected by the events which influenced the outcomes of that election which saw the BN lost its two-third majority in the national parliament for the first time since the 1969 election?
Will the ‘political tsunami’ which engulfed many urban and semi-urban areas in the Peninsular in the 2008 election come to the shores of Sarawak and engulf an urban parliamentary constituency like Sibu?
Will the PKR’s victory in Hulu Selangor affect the political behavior and voting patterns in Sibu? Or will the BN’s victory in Hulu Selangor give it a bigger majority in Sibu?
Will parliamentary constituencies in Sarawak, including Sibu, remain a fixed-deposit for the BN?
In the 2004 parliamentary election, a total of 38,033 people in Sibu voted for either the BN or the Opposition or 69.5% of the 54,695 people who are eligible to vote in this forthcoming Sibu by-election.
In the 2008 parliamentary election, this figure is slightly lower at 35,853 or 65.5% of the 54,695 registered voters in Sibu currently.
This means that more than 30% of the voters in Sibu did not turnout to cast their votes in the 2004 and in the 2008 elections respectively.
The Sibu Parliamentary constituency has about 21,500 Bumiputera voters. Of this figure, the Malay account for about 11,000 voters, the Iban for about 10,000 voters while the rest are other Bumiputera voters. Together the Bumiputera accounts for about 40% of all the voters in Sibu.
The crucial battle for votes no doubt will take place mainly in Chinese areas and within the constituents of Chinese origins. The Chinese account for 60% of the votes in Sibu.
Bumiputera votes are equally significant in ensuring victory for both parties, and more so for SUPP. The contesting parties can ignore them at their own peril.
Previously, the Malays and the Iban in Sarawak, especially those who reside in the rural areas are not known to be willing to vote for the DAP. But the BN can no longer take their support for granted.
The mentality of the people has changed. The issue is not so much about the people adjusting to the needs of the government. The issue is about the government. Will the government change in order to meet the needs and the demands of the voters?
Issues and problems faced by the rural people need to be addressed and solved. And there are many such issues and problems.
The DAP and its Pakatan Rakyat partners will certainly raise the issues which led to the group capturing 7 seats belonging to the SUPP in the 2006 state election. Matters pertaining to land titles, land premium and land lease, for example, will not go away just like that.
The opposition may also talk about ‘new politics’ which is quite abstract in nature and which may not be understood by the people. Nonetheless, it will provide something to talk about and may make people to think twice before they make a decision on which party to vote for. Nothing is quite as dangerous in politics as when the people have viewpoints and have something to say.
Chinese political, economic and social interests are close to the hearts of both the DAP and the SUPP. The irony is that both parties consider themselves to be a multi-racial in nature.
A section of the Bidayuh community has asked SUPP to prove that it is a truly multi-racial party by nominating a member of the community to take up the vacant positions of a Deputy Minister of Transport or the Chairman of the Padawan Municipal Council left vacant respectively by the demise of Datuk Robert Lau and the appointment of Tan Joo Phoi as Assistant Minister in the Chief Minister’s Department.
It is quite safe to say that the total number of SUPP’s and DAP’s supporters within the Chinese community in the Sibu parliamentary constituency is roughly the same. Both sets of supporters are likely to vote for their respective parties again.
It is also quite safe to say that a lot of the Chinese in Sibu is not quite interested in politics judging from the fact that more than 30% of the voters there did not bother to cast their votes in the 2008 election.
This by-election could be won by the party that is able to woo a substantial number of voters from the 30% who did not come out to vote in the 2008 election. A five percent swing among these people could ensure the DAP’s victory.
As it may not be able to rely so much on the Bumiputera votes, the DAP may need to capture at least 70% of the Chinese votes to give a good fight. The BN’s spirit will help SUPP to garner more Bumiputera votes. SUPP needs them.
The Malays in Sarawak, thus far, have been solidly behind PBB. The Iban vote is more volatile than the Malay vote, but a big majority of the Iban is with the BN.
The DAP may target Iban votes more than the Malay votes. But the Iban are not willing to be sidelined on BN’s victory.
SUPP more than the DAP can count on Bumiputera votes. The only question is: how many of them will turn out to cast their votes? SUPP requires high turnout from the Bumiputera.
1Malaysia is doing well to make the people to become more interested in government activities and become more identified with the leaders. The BN no doubt tries to capitalise on this concept.
The leadership style of the Prime Minister will certainly be used into good effect by the BN as it campaigns to solicit for votes, and there is no question that the Prime Minister himself will come down to Sibu to give moral support to the BN.
SUPP has identified its man to run in this by election. If he gets the blessing of the Prime Minister, the BN Chairman, Robert Lau Hui Yew will be SUPP’s candidate.
He has been chosen because of his similar style and nature to the late Datuk Robert Lau. But can he deliver the seat for the BN?
After getting used to victory-after-victory during Datuk Robert Lau’s era, this by-election represents a whole new ball game for the SUPP. Will it come out on top again this time?
The BN cannot rest on its laurels because the margin of its victory is not insurmountable. The majority obtained by SUPP in the last two parliamentary elections is roughly the same – 3,235 votes in the 2008 election and 3,345 votes in the 2004 election.
By any means, this is not a big majority, considering the fact that Sibu currently has 54,695 registered voters. Even though it had won Sibu parliamentary seat for five consecutive elections, it has never been plain sailing for SUPP.
A majority of 3,235 votes is a mere 5.9% of the total number of registered voters.
A three percent swing to the opposition or thereabout which is about 1,640 votes will wipe out this majority.
The BN majority can also be wiped out by the 3,028 new voters who will vote for the first time in this by election.
*The writer is a Senior Political Science Lecturer with the Faculty of Social Sciences, University Malaysia Sarawak.