The residual buzz over the pro-Malay rally that took place in the nation’s capital on Malaysia Day appears to be a benign issue for voters in Sarawak, analysts have said, as the state gears up for its next round of elections that must be held by next year.
Despite the racial posturing by participants of the September 16 gathering dubbed the “red shirt” rally – which appears to have received tacit support from Putrajaya – observers think it doesn’t really matter to Sarawakians who consider themselves insulated from upheavals in the peninsula.
“Some may have reacted strongly to the rally, but many consider it as a ‘semenanjung’ issue with little impact, or of no relevance to Sarawak. This will not affect the BN in Sarawak as far as electoral politics is concerned,” political analyst Dr Arnold Puyok said of the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition’s chances.
The senior lecturer with Universiti Malaysia Sarawak’s faculty of social sciences acknowledged that the state’s voters may not have much love for BN, which has ruled uninterrupted in the state, but stressed that they are redeemed by Chief minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem.
Arnold stressed that Adenan has been doing all the right things since taking over the helm from Tun Abdul Taib Mahmud early last year, giving Sarawakians little to complain about.
“What he is saying is, ‘yes, we are a BN component party and I am a BN leader but I will fight for Sarawak and its people – and let the semenanjung BN leaders deal with their own problem’.
“People may not like BN or Umno, but they like Adenan,” Arnold said.
Dr Oh Ei Sun of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies noted that the Malaysia Day rally, which was marred by clashes between a group of rally participants and riot police, would likely stir some distrust in urban areas but does not see it shifting more seats to the opposition since they already hold urban constituencies.
While urban voters who had only recently looked favourably to Adenan may backtrack to their “usual pro-opposition stance”, the final verdict will inevitably be decided by the rural electorate, he added.
“Adenan’s winning over of some Chinese votes is perhaps somewhat compromised by his avowed pro-Najib stance. The rural areas will have to solidly support BN for any sort of development to come to their areas,” Oh said, referring to prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.
Looking at previous state elections, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s Dr Faisal Hazis said it was clear that voting trends in the peninsula had almost no bearing on how Sarawakians chose their elected representatives.
Taking the example of the opposition’s watershed outing in the 2008 general Election – when they won an unprecedented 82 parliamentary seats – Faisal said the situation was a total opposite in Sarawak where the opposition only won one federal seat through DAP’s Chong Chieng Jen.
The big shift in Sarawak happened instead in the 2011 state polls when the opposition secured 15 out of 71 state seats, which he attributed to widespread dissatisfaction towards Taib and the perception of rampant corruption by the state administration, among other issues.
“Having said that, it’s a federal system and at the end of the day whatever happens with the national trend would definitely affect the state, but it won’t be that much.
“What Adenan has been doing in the last one year or so by championing state autonomy, state rights, projecting a very inclusive voice, rejecting red shirt rallies… that would have more bearing on election rather than Najib and also BN problems at the centre,” Faisal said.