Hornbill Unleashed

January 7, 2010

Pakatan’s CPF promises: Lots of legwork ahead

pakatan convention 191209 anwar talk

By Keruah Usit

Pakatan Rakyat’s Common Policy Framework (CPF), announced at its inaugural national convention in Shah Alam, needs plenty of work if it is to win hearts and minds in Sabah and Sarawak.

The CPF laid out reforms that Sarawakians and Sabahans have long been clamouring for. Pakatan included a provision of 20 percent of oil royalties to the two impoverished states, a tremendous improvement on the current five percent.

This guarantee is a stark contrast to the Barisan Nasional’s approach of withdrawing Kelantan’s oil royalties and offering wang ehsan or “charitable donations” to the Pakatan-held state.

Pakatan also promised to establish a Royal Commission on illegal immigration, a deeply resented problem in Sabah. It can only be hoped that a Pakatan government would act on the findings of such a Royal Commission, unlike previous administrations.

The CPF also pledged to uphold Native Customary Rights (NCR) to land, and “stop the oppression caused to those living in the interior areas by unethical economic activities”, a reference to sexual crimes by loggers, and environmental destruction visited on rural communities by politically linked logging, dam-building and oil palm plantation companies.

Pakatan will need a giant chunk of votes from Sabah and Sarawak if it is to achieve its dream of wresting federal power from Barisan, a point well argued by Sim Kwang Yang in this Blog

These laudable changes would be warmly welcomed by most Sarawakians and Sabahans – if most of them knew about the CPF. The muted coverage of the CPF in Peninsular Malaysian mainstream media could pass for a media circus, compared to the stony silence maintained on the CPF in Sarawak and Sabah news circles.

The main promises to Sabah and Sarawak were omitted from the cursory reports provided by national organs, such as the Star, theNew Straits Times and RTM. There appeared to be a news blackout in local Sarawak newspapers, too.

pakatan convention 191209 sign documentThis is unsurprising since these newspapers are dominated by the ruling political parties.

Pakatan is hamstrung by its lack of access to the television and radio sets of many Sarawakians and Sabahans – the sole source of national news for a huge part of the population. Internet coverage is far below the national average, and even the docile national and local newspapers arrive around noon in many small towns in the two states.

Pakatan component parties most active in Sabah and Sarawak are the DAP and PKR. The DAP has the longest established network, but it is largely restricted to urban areas, its natural constituency. DAP leaders in the two states have demonstrated little effort in reaching out to rural constituents.

The PKR in Sabah remains in a shambolic state. Sarawak PKR chief Baru Bian told Malaysiakini recently that he has begun “moving to the ground”; he understands that visiting rural communities around Sarawak is needed. He did not remark on logistic difficulties, but it is common knowledge that Sarawak PKR has scant funds and few party members.

Reaching rural voters

Pakatan has been most successful among urban Malays, Chinese and Indians in the peninsula. Indians make up less than one percent of the population in Sabah and Sarawak. An analysis of ethnic voting tendencies is necessary for Pakatan to try to take power, even if PKR leader Anwar Ibrahim has called for Malaysians to “stop thinking along narrow racial lines”.

Pakatan’s dependency on urban voters will work against it, in the swing states of Sabah and Sarawak, which hold 25 and 31 Parliamentary seats respectively. The vote weightage towards rural seats is even greater in these two states, compared to the peninsula.

pakatan convention 191209 stageIn Sarawak, the urban Chinese swung towards for the DAP in the last state assembly elections in 2006, but voted in only one Pakatan MP in the General Election in 2008. It remains to be seen whether the urban Chinese, who have the greatest access to the new media, will be convinced by Pakatan’s CPF promises.

Anwar Ibrahim is often painted as a “turncoat” by Sarawak’s Barisan leaders, and many urban Chinese Sarawakians harbour distrust towards “Peninsular Malaysian parties”, and in particular towards PAS, thanks to controversial publicity stunts such as banning the sale of beer.

Malays make up 20 percent of Sarawakians, and 15 percent of Sabahans. The Malay community in both states has witnessed, as in the Peninsula, shocking income inequalities. Pakatan will need to emphasise to Malay voters the economic benefits of higher oil royalties and increased return of taxation to the states, as set out in the CPF.

And most of all, Pakatan will need to reach out the most to the disenfranchised rural Dayak and Kadazan-Dusun communities. News of the promises of the CPF will never arrive in these communities, without direct action.

pakatan convention 191209 raise handsPakatan will have to register as many new rural voters as possible. It will have to work to stop many dispossessed rural communities from being deprived of Identity Cards – a problem that dates from the formation of Malaysia. Without Identity Cards, impoverished rural communities like the Penan will remain unable to vote.

National blogs and news portal comments regularly disparage Sabahans and Sarawakians as being “backward” and “stupid” for not participating in the political tsunami of March 8 last year. Comments such as “get your people out of their tiki huts to vote” betray these commentators’ ignorance of the facts on the ground.

Grassroots democracy has long existed in Sabah and Sarawak, with village chiefs chosen by popular decision, particularly among the Iban and Penan communities.

Some of these village chiefs have been removed by the local government, for opposing intrusions by logging or plantation companies, yet they have remained village chiefs by virtue of community support – an act of democratic resistance.

Pakatan will have to move quickly, to support these grassroots democracy movements, to improve access to Identity Cards and voting registration, and to channel information to rural communities, if it has any ambition to form a future federal government.

Its CPF framework, promising as it is, still requires a great deal of legwork too.


1 Comment »

  1. […] it will get everyone on board.   (there will be no more hidden enemies) Isn’t this good for Pakatan too who says that there are  Trojan Horses in their […]

    Pingback by “Political Mirage or Reality..?” « Audie61’s Weblog — January 7, 2010 @ 9:41 PM | Reply

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