By Charles Santiago
In 2013, they were the kingmakers. Despite losing the popular vote, the first in Malaysia’s political history, the people of Sarawak helped keep Prime Minister Najib Razak in power.
Ruling Barisan Nasional won 47 of 57 seats contested in both Sarawak and Sabah.
Elections in Malaysia were never free or fair given the gerrymandering, use of government machinery for political campaigns, vote buying, fraud and a government-controlled media.
Despite this, Sarawakians voted overwhelmingly for the ruling party, over decades.
But now, we have allegations of embezzlement leveled against Najib, the billions of ringgit that made its way into the premier’s personal account, flip flop explanations about the origins of the funds and the 1Malaysia Development Berhad scandal that refuses to go away, which may tip the scale.
It’s interesting to note that Najib himself had made dozens of trips to Sarawak, a state that the ruling party needs to win again, to be used as a leverage in the next federal polls.
But ironically Opposition politicians are barred from entering Sarawak. And this is easily done because Sabah and Sarawak have separate immigration laws.
Federal minister Nancy Shukri has championed the ban saying it is to maintain harmony in the state.
She has also urged “outsiders who do not know the politics in the state too well” to butt out and not interfere in the ‘development politics’ implemented by the state government with federal help.
Nancy’s comments are immature and nonsensical as not allowing Opposition politicians entry into the state denies the people access to alternative views, especially in the rural areas.
It takes a further whack at the spirit of free and fair elections as Opposition politicians are unable to campaign and educate voters.
And why the fear when the election projections favor Barisan Nasional? Are ruling politicians, including Nancy, afraid of the Opposition winning more seats as they have made inroads during the 2011 state elections, primarily because Sarawakians were tired of former chief minister Taib Mahmud’s tyranny?
The federal government and Najib are now hoping to cash in on newly-minted Chief Minister Adenan Satem’s clean image.
But while Adenan appears to have embraced many changes, they remain cosmetic given that the Barisan Nasional rule and hegemony are the same.
He has not addressed rural-urban divide, inequality, lack of health care and indigenous peoples’ rights, among many other issues.
The federal government has to also contend with the Sarawakian Chinese who will never forgive Taib’s kleptocracy.
Clearly however, the Barisan Nasional is not taking chances and has created 11 new state constituencies, bringing the total seats contested on May 7 to 82.
But to fortify a big win and ensure the victory can be used as a political capital for 2018, Opposition politicians, calls for reforms and alternative views are kept away from Sarawakians, especially those in rural areas.
It’s a shameless strategy. But again with Barisan Nasional and Najib, anything goes.