Sunday, May 8, 2016

The Sarawak State Election - a post-mortem comment by Tony Pua

Perhaps the Sarawak results it isn't the end of the world, but it came quite close. The DAP didn't lose all our seats, but we lost all our battleground.

Our campaign had its weaknesses, which we will in time rectify. But this was our most expansive and best prepared campaign in the history of Sarawak elections, despite the obvious limitations arising from a drastically uneven playing field.

Our messages were clear and consistent. They were twin-pronged - "national issues" affecting Sarawakians such as GST and BN's corruption (Najib's 'donation'), and "local issues" such as roads, water, electricity and other basic infrastructural issues.

Both anecdotal and formal surveys told us these were the issues which are the issues which the people were most concerned about. Our campaign videos, leaflets and ceramah speakers focused almost exclusively on these issues.

But they didn't matter. We had hoped they did, right to the very end, but they didn't.
In rural districts, our campaign teams were peppered with cash requests on a daily basis. "Supporters" turning up for nomination will follow up by camping at our campaign office awaiting their "allowance". You want work done? Pay up. You want PACA? Pay up. You want to campaign at a longhouse? Pay up. You want people to attend ceramah? Pay up. And of course, on the final day, voters were asking how much were we paying for their votes.

Some of our campaign teams were literally torn apart because of the question of "paying up". When is it acceptable to pay an allowance and when is it not?

I'm proud to say that our teams did not hand out outright cash for votes. But in the heat of the campaign, you cannot believe the sheer will power needed to stay sane and how one's principles gets stretched and questioned to a breaking point.

But we paid the price.

This is best exemplified by our campaigns in Pakan, Ngemah and Simanggang. It was independents who were nobodies of particularly significance, other than the fact that they were backed by rich and powerful forces who gave BN the run of their money. The DAP, despite having worked the ground for many years, especially in Simanggang, lost our deposits. And where PKR entered the fray in Ngemah and Simanggang, they lost their deposits too.

These " independents" had no leaflets, no videos, no message and barely any campaign presence, managed to lose to BN by a whisker.

It might even be more comforting to blame the inexcusable 3-corner fights with PKR for the losses we suffered. At least that would appear to be easier to remedy.

But no, the 3-corner fights in these rural interior constituencies were details of little or no significance to the voters. Money unfortunately in this case, makes the world go round.

There were glimmers of hope and encouragement in 1-2 Dayak seats where we definitely gained ground, like Tasik Biru or even Mambong (despite being beset by a 3-corner fight). But they were too far and few in-between to offer any semblance of consolation.

On the other hand, in our incumbent urban seats, the size of BN's majority in the 5 seats we lost showed that the battle was lost before it even began. We knew that the Adenan juggernaut will be BN's single biggest weapon. We just didn't expect the juggernaut to be near-invincible. Try as we did, and we threw the whole kitchen sink, we were unable to create a chink in BN's armour.

In addition to the pressing issues surrounding GST and Najib's scandal, we emphasized repeatedly on the need for check and balance via a strong opposition to ensure that Adenan didn't become the next "pek moh".

Despite the seeming strength of the message, it obviously did not have sufficient traction even among the urban voters. People were sufficiently happy with the few apparent concessions Adenan gave.
They were more than happy to overlook the continued corruption in the BN regime and the implications on the people via higher taxes. The rampant and blatant abuse of power by Adenan, such as banning Members of Parliament from entering the state also didn't matter too much to them.
However, perhaps, had we not campaigned that hard, we might have lost even more seats. Therefore we must thank those tens of thousands of supporters who continued to stick to us under such trying circumstances.

Hence on hindsight, our Sarawak battle was one of limiting the damage rather than one of consolidating our hold on these seats won in the last elections, or making gains in the rural districts.
The election is undoubtedly a sobering experience. It makes you question your ideals, your principles and the worth of your fight. It shakes your faith in people and your beliefs that the better good will ultimately win at the end of the day.

These are the sort of times when you need inspiration to continue the fight, to pick ourselves up and to continue the journey. And the inspiration comes from heroes like the 75 year old Lim Kit Siang - for I now finally appreciate his sheer strength in spirit and character to keep up the fight, despite repeated demoralising election losses and personal sacrifices he must have gone through in past elections for the decades before 2008.

We will go lick our wounds. But in the interest of the millions of Malaysians, whether they appreciate it or otherwise, we will get up and fight again another day.

For it is when good men do nothing, that evil men succeeds.

Tomorrow, will be a brand new day.