By Francis Paul Siah
COMMENT | On the night of April 27, I asked the 600-strong crowd at the “Hope for Sarawakians” event in Kuching whether they were aware “that we, Sarawakians, have been described as bodoh (stupid) by many not-so-kind souls in Malaya”.
I said that if they were not aware, then they should know now for it was true – many have branded Sarawakians as backward and stupid, politically at least.
If it wasn’t true, I said I would not be talking about it in public before a few hundred people.
I was prepared for a backlash that night because there could be some annoyed and angry people in the crowd who might not take it lightly at being called “stupid” right in their face and in public.
But I had already made up my mind 10 minutes before the ceremah to hit hard on this point. It was something that needed to be said publicly and I have to do it.
Happily, my fellow Sarawakians present that night were able to stomach my not-so-diplomatic posture. They listened and didn’t throw rotten eggs at me. I was glad I got away this time.
When you speak at a ceramah, you have to gauge the mood of the audience. The moment you feel that the people are not in sync with your pointers, you have to change course quickly. Keeping a few jokes in mind is handy.
But my fellow Sarawakians were cool that night and I plucked up my courage to continue prodding on the same subject.
I said I agree with those who mocked Sarawakians and that “we, Sarawakians are stupid indeed when it comes to politics”.
“How much longer do we, Sarawakians, (and I stressed) me included, wish to remain stupid, bodoh, paloi? When will we ever learn? How much longer do we wish to remain the ‘fixed deposit’ of Barisan Nasional?” I asked.
Hypothetically, I reminded them that when you put your money in a fixed deposit in a bank, the interest will increase over time. In the case of Sarawak, we have been the fixed deposit for more than half a century and the “interest” paid to us remains at five percent (in reference to the oil royalty). Are we not stupid to accept this raw deal?
My final word on this that night: “Come May 9, do we wish to remain stupid or show others that we are not that bodoh after all?”
Understanding BN’s dominance
As a Sarawakian, I cannot blame outsiders for the demeaning “bodoh” tag. But I do hope and wish that they would learn and understand Sarawak and its people better.
A government is likely to hold on to power for a long time if it makes its people dependent and beholden to it. Who was the smart guy who said, “Just keep the people poor and they will vote for you forever”?
Unfortunately, such a situation is still very prevalent in Sarawak today.
Over the past two weeks, I travelled around in my home state and visited Sri Aman, Saratok, Lubok Antu, Selangau, Sarikei and Sibu.
In the Iban enclave of Jelukong, Lubok Antu, I had a conversation with a villager, John Kilat, who told me unashamedly that many voters look for a “windfall” at election time and it was only those from BN who could afford to live up to their expectations.
“During an election, it is easy to request for funds to upgrade our longhouses, tar roads leading to our villages, new generators, water supply from fresh sources etc. These are our basic needs and the BN candidate will normally give us what we want. We understand the opposition is in no position to help us that way. So what can we do except to vote for BN?” he said.
This best surmises the reality on the ground among rural voters.
But I think it is also unfair to blame the hard-pressed rural folk for BN’s dominance. What about those in the urban areas too?
For example, in the Petra Jaya constituency, which is a part of greater Kuching, why is the Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB) candidate unassailable, election after election? Are the voters in Petra Jaya not urban, educated people?
Then again, you cannot blame the voters in PBB constituencies for supporting the party. Probably, they have good reasons to do so for PBB must have served them well and they are contented and happy. So, who are you to call them bodoh?
Sarawak has 31 parliamentary seats, six of which were won by the opposition in 2013.
Sarawak Chief Minister Abang Johari Openg is very confident that the state BN will win 28 seats. On the other side, Pakatan Harapan is looking at securing 10.
The key question is: In the event of a very narrow win favouring either side tomorrow night, will the Sarawak BN and “bodoh” Sarawakians turn out to be Najib’s saviour?
We will know the answer in less than 24 hours.
FRANCIS PAUL SIAH heads the Movement for Change, Sarawak (MoCS) and can be reached at email@example.com.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.