Sunday, May 21, 2006

Sarawak state elections - a bitter pill to swallow

Although the Barisan Nasional (BN) or National Front coalition has retained control of Sarawak, one of the two Malaysian states in Borneo, it is a bitter pill to swallow especially to its flamboyant and powerful Chief Minister, Abdul Taib Mahmud.

Taib's Pesaka Bumiputra Bersatu (PBB)-led coalition suffered a setback due to the strongest election showing by opposition parties, namely the Kuala Lumpur-based Chinese-led Democratic Action Party (DAP) in 20 years.

The near-clean sweep expected by Taib and national BN leaders did not materialised. Instead, it lost nine urban and semi-urban seats out of a total of 71 in the state legislative assembly. It is Taib's nightmare.

The Sarawak state elections was spearheaded by none other than the deputy prime minister, Najib Tun Razak with an, on-and-off entourage, of federal ministers including "outspoken" information minister Zainuddin Maidin.

The federal government touted billions of ringgit in spending for development projects and immediate assistance to the poor and needy, something which is normal during elections in Malaysia.

Hopefully, the long-serving Taib Mahmud will learnt something - if you are too long in office, your popularity will slip down the drain - remember Wan Mokhtar Ahmad of Terengganu? Taib has been in office for some 25 years and it is time for him to go.

As for the federal BN in general, the Sarawak election is a clear signal that everything is not OK. In Sarawak, the urban voters especially the Chinese has rejected BN, similar to the trend in most of peninsular Malaysia's urban constituencies.

The BN depended heavily on the Malay-majority semi-urban and rural constituencies, but for how long? Young Malays are moving away from UMNO (United Malays National Organization), the main partner of the BN and the power-base of the Malays. They see UMNO as a party comprising a number of untrustworthy, corrupt leaders who enriched themselves through political connections. If the Malays reject UMNO, it is the end of the road for the BN.

UMNO leader and prime minister Abdullah Badawi must be brave enough to check the unhealthy trend in his party. There are too many corrupt leaders at the middle-rung of the heirachy, including the youth and women wings. Even the newly-created but not needed Putra and the active Putri wings are beginning to taste the "luxury" of power and the "wealth" of being part of UMNO.

"Hidup Melayu!" (Long Live the Malays). Yes you can "hidup" with or without UMNO. The question is what kind of living standard you want to "hidup" in? As the old Malay proverb says: "Tepuk dada tanya selera" (literally it means it is up to the Malays themselves).

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