Travelling through Sarawak has prompted me to think about the fundamental paradoxes that lie at the heart of governance in Malaysia.
While they’re at their most pronounced in Sarawak, the themes and challenges are pretty much uniform wherever you go in the country.
As in the peninsula, the cities and towns of Sarawak have turned against the BN. At the same time, most rural areas remain solidly ‘blue’. It’s a mirror of image of what is happening across the South China Sea, with the notable exception of Kelantan.
So what’s the contradiction? Well, those who’ve benefited the most from the BN development policies and politics – viz the urban Malaysians of all races — have become the ruling coalition’s toughest critics.
They’re not thankful supplicants — kissing the hands of the local MP or state assembly member. Ordinary Malaysians want more and they want it now. In their eyes, legislators are just ‘public servants’ – whose basic obligation should be on serving.
The critical factor is that urban Malaysians are no longer dependant on the BN for basic amenities like water, housing or electricity. Besides that, many now work in the private sector. Their livelihoods are no longer solely dependent on political influence.
Because of this, they’re able to turn their backs on the patronage and service ‘machine’ that empowered them and indeed their parents’ generation.
Educated and well-informed, they’ve started questioning the way the BN has governed for decades. They deplore shady back-room deals and controversial use of public funds. They want greater openness and transparency. Of course, the BN has proven deeply resistant to greater freedoms of any kind, especially for the media.
But the voters are smart. They understand the connection between civil liberties and government services. They know that a strong media will question and probe the deals that have driven up the cost of many public projects.
Still, tight media controls have not stopped the public from being highly critical of the leaders proffered by the BN.
I find it hard to believe that Khir Toyo and Noh Omar are the best Malay leaders that can be found in Selangor. Surely there must be hundreds — if not thousands — of highly-educated Malay professionals to be recruited from Subang Jaya, Kepong and Melawati — the ‘cream’ of the NEP?
Why don’t these men and women want to join Umno?
The failure to recruit the best human resource lies at the core of Umno’s continuing failure to win back the urban Malay middle classes. It also reinforces my point as the products of the NEP turn their back on the original ‘agent’ of change — namely Umno.
The same dilemma is slowly emerging in Sarawak.
Take Sibu, the business hub of the Rajang river basin, for example. The city is remarkably clean, organized, and safe. Indeed, the covered market — surely one of the largest in the country — is an impressive sight.
As we all know, the city’s voters rejected the BN in spectacular fashion at a by-election only months ago. This was a calculated, considered move by Sibu’s predominantly Foochow Chinese community, who knew they could manage without government assistance.
However, the same is not true of the small long-house communities beyond the city limits. The disparities between these areas and the urban centers are stark. Roads shrink and eventually disappear in rural Sarawak.
Running water is also a major problem — especially during the dry season. Many of the longhouses must rely on large water tanks and elaborate rain-water traps to survive.
In certain cases, the local rivers have also been polluted by the use of industrial-scale fertilizers in nearby plantations or pig farming.
The haphazard access to public utilities and property rights – have made rural Sarawakians very dependant on developmental politics.
Sarawak’s rural poor realize that only the state government of the day can help them. They therefore keep voting for BN representatives in the hope that their needs will eventually be met.
Therein lays the contradiction for the BN: providing these services would mean an inevitable loss of rural support.
As a consequence, Sarawak’s piece-meal development of the interior reinforces the BN control. Indeed, it makes communities more wary of challenging authority.
Needless to say, this is no way to achieve the ETP, NEM, 1Malaysia or any of the ambitious goals we have set for ourselves as a nation.
Development is not a reward, it is a right. Solving the paradox, however, comes at an exceedingly high political cost. But then again, the BN has no choice: we simply cannot go on like this. — Bintulu Org
Sarawakians Wake Up: Development Is Not Reward For Supporting BN, But Your Rights « Hornbill Unleashed