Hornbill Unleashed

May 15, 2010

What is your vote worth?

NONEBy Keruah Usit

“’Any money YB?’ a voter asked me, as I asked him to vote for me. He said BN promised RM200 for his vote,” Wong Ho Leng, state assembly representative for Bukit Assek and the underdog DAP candidate for the Sibu parliamentary by-election, posted on Twitter on May 10.

Offers of vote-buying, Wong concluded, are not in the realm of rumour. Wong’s allegation is nothing new. Every poll in Sarawak in living memory – state, parliamentary or by-election – has been dogged by reports of vote-buying.

Methods of bribery described in past elections have included the prosaic, such as handing out cash and holding dinners and alcohol-soaked ‘meet-the-candidate’ parties. Cash gifts ranged from RM50 to RM100 were offered in previous elections, depending on the poverty level in a given constituency.

The higher offer quoted by Wong indicates Sibu is an important by-election, and suggests that inflation may not, perhaps, be as low as official figures tell us.

NONEOther vote-buying methods have been more inventive, such as rigging bets on candidates, and recording voters’ identity card details in party branch offices so that those “registered” could return to collect a payout after the party’s candidate won.

What is a vote worth? Perhaps all the hackneyed reports of bribery, the distribution of cash, announcements of “development” and promises of piped water and electricity, might make other Malaysians reflect a little on the value of our young democracy.


Most Malaysians would agree that democracy is a system with failings, but is the least flawed arrangement nonetheless, considering the alternatives. Most nations worldwide have accepted this mode of government, or have at least paid lip-service to it, to avoid becoming international pariahs. Malaysia and Singapore, among many others, are classical quasi-democracies.

NONESince the birth of democracy in Athens two and a half millennia ago, people have railed against its weaknesses. It has spawned mob rule, bullying by the majority, lack of legitimacy, injustices in the electoral process, and gaining power by the use of rhetoric, rabble-rousing or appealing to the lowest common denominator, of race or creed for instance.

Even the Mother of all Parliaments, Britain, got her knickers in a twist, when the general election there last week did not deliver a clear majority for any party, for the first time since 1974.

We Malaysians have seen more than our fair share of all of the blemishes listed above, in our half century or so of misshapen democracy.

NONEA majority of Malaysians voted for Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s promises of clean, efficient and trustworthy government and Vision 2020. Decades of profligacy, corruption and decay of our public institutions ensued.

A landslide majority also stumped for Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s pledges to clean up corruption in 1994. His legacy now includes accusations of signing away oil fields to Brunei, inertia over the Port Klang Free Zone and other scandals, and a spate of “development corridors” that led nowhere.

Now, Malaysians in Sibu and elsewhere are preparing to cast their votes for 1Malaysia, “inclusiveness” and a “high-income economy”. These are leftovers of slogans past, but are still lapped up by the voting public.

Many Malaysian voters of all races will continue to vote for empty pledges of “higher income”, without paying heed to the national issues of institutionalised racist bigotry, urban and rural poverty, censorship and police brutality. This, too, is succumbing to a form of vote-buying.

There are, without doubt, well-informed Malaysians who vote for better governance, individual liberties and progressive policies, but they remain in a minority.

The Foochow Chinese

These shortcomings of the democratic process have been on clear display in the Sibu campaign. The majority of Sibu voters are sensible, practically minded Foochow Chinese and impoverished Ibans.

NONEFoochow pioneers led by Christian elder Wong Nai Siong built up Sibu over a century ago. They have remained a resourceful and cohesive dialect group. Many have cemented commercial and social bonds by membership in the Methodist church.

A significant number of Foochows thrive in business, politics and the professions. Success stories abound: every Sibu resident knows of some taxi driver who has worked tirelessly and skimped all his life, to pay for his children to attend medical or law school abroad.

Despite being from a relatively small dialect group, Foochow federal cabinet members such as Dr Ling Liong Sik, Ting Chew Peh and Kong Cho Ha from Sitiawan, Perak, and Law Hieng Ding and the late Robert Lau Hui Kang from Sarawak, have held high office in the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) and the Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP).

NONEMost Foochow voters are expected to honour their traditional pragmatic and conservative background, and back the BN status quo, with a nod to the funding pledged by Najib Razak and Muhyiddin Yassin.

Only a minority of young, educated Sibu Foochows are likely to vote for the DAP because they harbour resentment against the stripping of Sarawak’s resources by the political elite, and the exclusion of all but a small coterie of timber tycoons from the state’s vast wealth. These younger voters also have access to the digital media and understand the benefits of the two-party system.

National issues such as Umno’s ban on the use of the word ‘Allah’ will also play a role, albeit a minor one. Christians make up 52 percent of all Sibu voters, and Methodists and Catholics contribute a sizeable majority of Foochows.

BN victory expected

NONEIronically, scorched-earth measures, such as theSarawak CID chief’s threat to use the ISA if politicians mention the ‘Allah’ issue, may in fact lead to even greater discussion of the ban, and more resentment against Umno.

However, experienced political observers say that even the demands of freedom of worship are unlikely to alter the results of the Sibu election. Most Foochow and Iban voters will continue to vote parochially and conservatively for promises from Umno’s leaders to bestow “development”, as promised for the last 47 years, but elusive until today.

NONEThe expected BN victory will be hard to swallow for many Sibu DAP members, who have worked hard for years as volunteers. These volunteers do not get paid for campaigning, unlike most SUPP workers.

According to a former MP and Malaysiakini contributor, Sim Kwang Yang, widely respected for being that rare creature – a clean and ethical political leader – the relationship between political representatives and voters is akin to that between a tree and its soil.

Politics can only flourish and bear healthy fruit if the foundation, the voting public, is equally sound and free of corruption.

What is your vote worth?



  1. For example….the Ibans being voting to Slyvester Entri for what..??? for the past 10-20 years? What development this brought to them…..Lapok road is deplorable for the..what…20 years…. NCR land been sold to timber companies……right now all the land from Miri to Long Lama along bought Baram river is sold to Oil Palm companies!

    Inhabitant along Baram River/Lapok Road are Ibans…every now an then there are complaining about not having proper road, pipe water, electricity,proper school/kinder for kids, etc……BUT still the vote for BN!!! bodoh….bahul……

    Comment by Kick A.. H.. — May 15, 2010 @ 12:27 PM | Reply

  2. Sibu buy election……I believe what happen in Batang Ai buy election will repeat again; the Ibans selling their soul to BN just for a bottle of Tuak/Cap Apek….

    Comment by Kick A.. H.. — May 15, 2010 @ 12:17 PM | Reply

  3. Its about time all the Parish priests, Pastors, Monks and religious leaders tell their faithful NOT TO SELL THEIR VOTE and always vote with their conscience as to which party, Pakatan or BN, can serve them better. These religious leaders are equally guilty if they do not preach against corruption.

    Comment by Mata Kuching — May 15, 2010 @ 6:33 AM | Reply

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