Sibu voted for integrity, dignity, truth

SIBU: After a nerve-racking night, Sibu woke up this morning to etch a new pathway to the future without Barisan Nasional’s political patronage, which for so long had benefited some but had been a bane to others.

Sibu chose timeless virtues over money in yesterday’s by-election, which was occasioned by the death on April 9 of BN’s Robert Lau Hoi Chew.

DAP’s Wong Ho Leng beat BN’s Robert Lau Hui Yew, the former MP’s nephew.
In an immediate reaction to his razor-thin loss, Lau said: “Sibu will lose out a lot now. The state BN will lose the confidence of the federal government.”

Sibu is an inland town, located at the confluence of the Rajang and Igan rivers. The population is predominantly Chinese, but there are sizeable numbers of Malay-Melanaus and Dayaks (Ibans, Bidayuhs and Orang Ulus).

Former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson once said: “The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery.” As such, “he who rejects change is an architect of decay.”
The Chinese believe in continuity, both in this world and the next. And change is integral to continuity.

This belief, bolstered by the sense of pride that swelled through the thousands of Chinese as they listened to inspiring speeches by DAP stalwarts in a string of ceramahs, was what powered the change in Sibu.

According to Lau, BN secured only 30 percent of the Chinese votes, defying government intelligence, which sources said had estimated a 42 percent leaning towards the ruling party even as late as Saturday morning.

Perhaps it had to do with Pakatan’s last Super Saturday ceramah, which featured on stage 60 MPs from all three Pakatan Rakyat parties, including wheelchair-bound Karpal Singh. It was a dramatic show of opposition force — and pride — not seen in Sibu before in the recallable past. The sense of pride was so great and contagious that no observer would have failed to notice it spreading among the audience.

On Friday night, at a ceramah in Rejang park, a PKR insider told FMT: “You cannot intimidate the Chinese here. They are excited at meeting such a steady stream of DAP leaders. They are seeing the effect of their collective might. It has put LGE (Lim Guan Eng) on an equal footing with the Malay ministers and even Chief Minister Taib (Mahmud).

“It is a very powerful feeling. They are conscious of their collective strength now, especially after 2008.

“They like what they see — the erudition and humility displayed in Guan Eng, Kit Siang, Karpal Singh, Anwar Ibrahim. It’s all so strong and credible.

“It’s not about money anymore. It's now integrity, which BN is very short on.”
And to Saturday’s 15,000 people who crowded the open car park in front of Paramount Hotel here, it did not matter that BN had labelled PAS an “extremist Muslim group out to Islamise and stifle every walking Malaysian.”

Said a local car dealer who declined to be named: “If Guan Eng and Kit Siang say they are okay with PAS, than we accept it. They know better than us.”

Referring to the state government’s offer of the “lowest land premiums” in the country and Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s promise of millions of ringgit to the community, he said: “These are our rights. The government cannot buy my loyalty or my faith.”


With the Malay-Melanaus, it is mainly about “maruah,” a word often translated as “dignity,” but which is sometimes better rendered as “face,” as in “losing face.”

When Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim and PAS leaders bandied about with the word, it seemed to hold little value for the folk of Nangka, one of three state seats within the Sibu parliamentary constituency, the other two being Bawang Assan and Pelawan.
Until late Saturday, BN was confident of winning 65 percent of the Malay-Melanau votes.
Then, overnight, “maruah” took on a new meaning. Najib, who had promised a late night drop-in at Kampung Hilir, broke his word and flew back to Kuala Lumpur without an apology.
It was a double faux pas because, when he left, it was just after he had heaped praise on the Chinese community in two speeches—at Rejang Park and at Dataran Sibu Gateway. And this was after he had dished out millions to the Chinese.

It seemed as if BN was taking the Malay-Melanaus and the Dayaks for granted. Its long-standing boast about their being its “fixed deposit” now sounded hollow.
The non-Chinese felt that the prime minister had simply dismissed them as unimportant.
The sense of betrayal, coupled with their unhappiness with Nangka assemblyman Awang Bemen, gave PAS campaigners a blessed window of opportunity. They played on the humiliation felt by the women and children who had waited for four hours to shake hands with Najib. No prime minister has ever visited the 80-year-old Kampung Hilir.
The disappointment must have seethed through the night. When they voted on Sunday, the folk of Kampung Hilir was virtually saying, Kita ada maruah, or “We have our dignity.”
In a squalid longhouse in the Ma’aw logging district of the Bawang Assan constituency lives 48-year-old Mawang Bubu with his wife and four children, one of whom is severely disabled.
Mawang holds two jobs, as does his wife, so that there would be enough food on the table.
He did not cast his vote for a simple reason: “I’m fed-up. They ignore us always.”
An office boy named Jugah, an Iban from Bawan Assan, said he voted for DAP to teach BN a lesson.
“They have been giving us money little by little,” he said. “But we wanted to teach them a lesson.” He said his friends had done the same.
A few days earlier, an Iban farmer turned cabbie, Randi from Kanowit, spewed his anger at Najib’s announcement of RM18 million for 67 Chinese schools.
He said: “Eighteen million for Chinese schools? They don’t need it. One hundred and ten Iban longhouses have no water, no electricity.”
These are bitter truths, and anyone who was listening to the voices on the ground would have heard plenty of similar complaints.
BN’s choice of Lau as a candidate was hardly a sweetener. The Dayaks call Lau’s father the “man who grabbed our lands.”
Said PKR's Baru Bian, a top Sarawak lawyer who has been dealing with Native Customary Rights (NCR) land issues: “The Ibans were puzzled as to why the government wanted them to vote for Lau. They couldn’t understand why the government wanted them to vote for the man whose father took their land.”
Bian was in a Pakatan delegation that visited longhouses in Penusu and Rasa on the final day of campaigning.
Statistics don’t lie, or so say the statisticians. But statistics are not equal to facts. Neither do politicians always tell us the facts. And woe to those who believe everything politicians say.
Some years ago, a Tok Batin of the Jah Hut tribe in Pahang told a group of reporters: “Open up your ears. You can hear the earth breathe and the jungle sing.”
The FMT team that covered the Sibu campaign chose to stay at ground level, and there they heard many truths. They heard the earth breathe.

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