The Sibu by-election on last Sunday was equated as a political miracle for Pakatan Rakyat Sarawak when in its maiden attempt, its first-ever candidate Wong Ho Leng from DAP, won this traditional Barisan Nasional stronghold by 398 votes. The huge upset was a tectonic shift that sent shockwaves not only in Sarawak but right across the South China Sea into Peninsular Malaysia.
Instantly, the so-called “fixed deposits” of BN, in the form of guaranteed parliamentary seats in Sarawak, and to a lesser extent, Sabah and Labuan, are in the play, hence opening up the race again of whether BN or PR will take federal power.. It is not easy but neither is it impossible.
In the 2008 general election, BN won 85 while PR 80 parliamentary seats in Peninsula, with PR receiving 51 percent of the votes while BN 49 percent in Peninsula. But of the 57 seats in Sarawak, Sabah and Labuan, PR won only two – Bandar Kuching and Kota Kinabalu.
Of Sarawak’s 31 parliamentary seats, apart from Sibu, eight others were won on a margin of less than 10 percent (Mas Gading, Stampin, Lubok Antu, Sarikei, Lanang, Hulu Rajang, Miri, Limbang). In other words, a swing of the magnitude of Sibu will at least deplete a third of BN’s “deposits” in Sarawak.
Nationally, 56 BN seats and 54 PR seats were won with a margin of less than 10 percent. Theoretically, a Sibu-like wind of change in PR’s favour will mark the end of BN’s federal power.
The Sibu by-election saw the coming of age of the Sarawak Pakatan Rakyat. The active participation of PAS, PKR and SNAP leaders and members in the campaign enhanced our engagements with voters and eventually improved our results in the Malay and Iban areas. Together with DAP election workers, PKR and PAS members also formed a formidable team at the postal vote front.
The formation of the Sarawak PR not only gives hopes to the people of Sibu, Sarawak and Malaysia who desire change but also effectively put to rest at once in Sarawak the repeatedly-used “killer weapon” of BN – the Islamic State card.
Despite being portrayed by national media and BN leaders for fanning negative sentiments, neutral observers would agree that the DAP Sibu campaign was generally filled with positive messages.
DAP’s message of hope was inspiring and centered on good governance, institutionalised annual allocation instead of during elections and looking after the people all year round. Even the Prime Minister admitted that DAP’s campaign was more creative and energetic.
PR echoed the people’s desire for change. It was about good Pakatan state governments versus bad governance practiced by Chief Minister Taib Mahmud, about ending monopolies in Sarawak especially those controlled by Taib’s family and creating opportunities for the young so that they don’t have to travel afar to find a living, about having a stronger opposition to check the excesses of BN.
Instead of the BN’s “let’s make a deal”, the people of Sibu yearned for a new deal. The real bosses are the people who wanted to rule instead of being dictated to.
Sarawak is on the cusp of change. The state election must be held within a year and Taib would have been in office for three decades by next year. There was a conscious effort by BN not to put Taib’s poster in Sibu. Unlike the Prime Minister, Taib was conspicuous by his absence, but he would have to “face” the voters of Sarawak literally in state-wide campaign.
Nevertheless a word of caution, whilst his empire may be crumbling, Taib’s regime is still strong. DAP and PR must reach out to all communities in Sarawak and work for change with the people. The people must believe that change is possible.
With such a shocking defeat in Sibu, it will be difficult for Taib to hold a snap state election. As we can see, his regime has resorted to the old politics of intimidation and threats, by suspending Pakatan Rakyat state assemblymen in Sarawak. However such heavy-handed tactics would only serve to accelerate the dismantling of his power structure.
Prime Minister Najib Razak must be wondering what went wrong in Sibu after visiting the constituency for three times during the by-election. He may not be able to hold a snap general election to, fearing a similar backfire against BN nationwide. Long gone too was his proud proclamation that the by-election campaign was a referendum of his administration.
For Pakatan, this is the time for us to regroup and refresh our strength across communities, villages, longhouses and towns. The Sibu miracle was forged on change. Its success would be determined by the people’s faith in themselves. The challenge is to transform PR’s first success state-wide and across the Borneo Island.
BN will not and cannot change. For BN to change spells destruction for its leaders. But without change spells certain doom for all Malaysians. The choice is clear. Like the famous Sarawak football team in the late eighties let us believe – Ngap Sayot for Sibu! Ngap Sayot for Sarawak! Ngap Sayot for Malaysia!