Hornbill Unleashed

January 17, 2011

Votes for sale in Sarawak

Sim Kwang Yang

Elections in Western democracies is based on the cardinal principle that the vote must be free and fair. The system of party politics has evolved through many centuries of trial and error in Europe and North America.

In a young democracy like Malaysia’s, the political institutions are a long way from developing the kind of political maturity practiced by Western nations. It will take us many decades, perhaps centuries, to ensure that voting is free and fair, and that all corrupt practices are punished mercilessly by the political system. 

The Achilles’ heel of our Malaysian system, especially in the context of Sarawak, is that the sanctity of the vote as an act of free and independent choice is never widely respected even by the electorate – the voters themselves.

NONEIn the eyes of the many illiterate rural voters, the vote is just another commodity that has a price and can be bought and sold just like anything else.

In every election in Sarawak, vote-buying, whether individually or in blocks, is a standard practice in many rural areas.

Voters offer political support to the highest bidders, and therefore, the person with the biggest amount of campaign funds will very often win the election. Massive corruption through payment for votes is a common phenomenon.

Any general election, especially in the rural constituencies, is an opportunity for the long-neglected voters to gain the exclusive attention of the politicians and their agents. The contesting parties will be treated like royalty wherever they go, and requests for cash and kind will be treated favourably.

Agents of the ruling party

The campaign machinery of the ruling Barisan Nasional is often manned by thousands of hired workers and representatives of the candidates.

NONEThe function of these underlings is to distribute cash and material rewards to the masses of voters, especially on the eve of the voting itself.

Occasionally, concerts and entertainment are also provided free of charge for the voters.

Cash can also be directly paid to the voters through the existing system of tua kampung (village chiefs). The standard payment is made in the name of minor development funds, which can amount to RM60 per voter.

The tua kampung in Sarawak is often regarded as agents of the ruling party and their duty includes the payment of cash for votes. They are paid approximately RM450 a month by the government, and so for all practical purposes, they are but the servants of the politicians who control the state.

Many of the instruments of control against vote buying are ineffectual because of the sheer size of the state of Sarawak. That is why corruption of the vote has gone on for so long, without effective counter measures to protect the sanctity of the vote.

Cheap talk will never win

That is why the results of general elections in Sarawak are so predictable. The groups of powerful politicians who can fork out the largest amounts of campaign funds will usually win any electoral contest. Money really talks, and cheap talk will never win.

NONEIn recent elections, there has been a wave of discontent against the BN candidates, mostly among the Chinese voters in the towns.

In all urban centres in Sarawak, the predominantly Chinese voters are financially independent and so are better informed, by virtue of the ease of communication.

That is why vote-buying has been much less successful in urban constituencies. Urban voters tend to behave more independently, hence the relative lack of success of money politics in the towns and cities.

But the majority of Sarawakians still live and work in ‘ulu’ areas. As long as they are imprisoned within their isolated remote rural enclaves, future elections in Sarawak will continue to be influenced by the corrupt practice of vote buying.

The political parties with the most money and best organisation will always enjoy this unfair advantage over their cash-strapped rivals in the opposition.


SIM KWANG YANG was member of parliament for Bandar Kuching, Sarawak from 1982 to 1995. He can be reached at sky8hornbill@gmail.com. All comments are welcomed.


  1. Sik semua orang Sarawak boleh di beli dengan RM60 atau BEER semata-mata nak mengundi Taib. Cheap talk!!!

    Comment by F18 — January 20, 2011 @ 4:51 PM | Reply

  2. The 3 “factors” outlined by Meramat Tajak illustrates the type of dictatorship we live in and the difficulty of breaking out of this control situation.

    We are at the beginning of what the Filipinos, Thai and Indonesians have gone through in the past 25 years of their political development. Now they dare to stand up and make their demands loud and clear. Sarawakians other than the most oppressed ulu people, are still timid. It is a long road ahead to achieve the democracy we want.

    The lack of genuine democratic practice is seen in the government appointment of the village headman usually an ex-government servant, therefore even more easy to control. The right to elect the taui rumah was taken away long ago. This village democracy was practiced for centuries by the ulu people and in fact should be held up and promoted as a political positive of Sarawak society.

    The system of popular participation in the municipal councils remains suspended since 1964 following declaration the Ganyung Malaysia state of emergency. In reality the rulers can rule by decree.

    Those in power are now well versed in the “carrot and stick” method to control the electorate well trained to react like Pavlov’s proverbial dog.

    The Opposition is part of this “dog” as it has to play by UMNO PBB BN rules. It is a timid opposition for all its brave propaganda and their master know this.

    There was not a whimper from them on Saturday 15th Jan 2011 when Najib was in town for Taib’s wedding feast. They could have one critic said issue a joint statement with NGOs to highlight the corruption of the regime and call for reforms. This would have gained its some popular support and some national and international attention. It’s not cheap publicity by much wanted publicity for Sarawak.

    Will this dog ever wake up and bite the hand that is feeding it?

    Comment by Ditto — January 18, 2011 @ 3:42 AM | Reply

  3. The Proxy Vote proposed by the hopeless EC will only benefit BN:-

    1. BN’s people will use names of those voters working outside to proxy vote without the knowledge of he voyers. Sabah beware !

    2. Buy votes illegally and vote legally by proxy.

    3. Plant 1 mock proxy voter in every states. If BN loses 13th GE, all these mock voters file court case. EC will declare election void & null. Emergency rule. (re Kuching MP Court Case).

    4. Pakatan file court case on detected illegal proxy votings ? Sure lose.

    By the way, what happen to the case of a Sabah voter whose IC indicates she is 70 but voter look 30 year-old ? EC sleeping ?

    By now, EC = Evil-election Corruption.

    This is constitutional breach of trust against the Constitutions of Malaysia.

    Comment by Hopeless — January 18, 2011 @ 12:25 AM | Reply

  4. Mr SKY,

    The narrative that “RM 10 to RM 60, plus a social event with food and drinks” will win votes for BN every time is fatalistic, since the Opposition political party would never match BN cronies in $RM. Besides, I believe the truth is more complex than that.

    There are many more important factors why BN is entrenched in rural areas besides the vote buying.

    1. False belief in the idea that BN is the omnipotent ruler, who has the power to rule by decree and controls the nation’s wealth. The education system and the mass media reenforce this notion of the symbiosis between the people and the government, with BN the political interchangeable with BN the administration of the day.

    2. The BN political party not only provide RM 420 allowance to the Tuai Rumah (Ketua Kampung) but most importantly grant them with broad authority. Tuai Rumah can be called upon to support affidavit for application of MyKad, seeking agriculture subsidies, application for welfare for the aged etc. With such autocratic power vested solely in the Tuai Rumah,the other longhouse dwellers would not dare to break ranks when it comes to choosing between BN or PR.

    3. Rural dwellers appreciate a festive social event, since … unlike in the urban areas – there would not be much entertainment besides watching TVs or listening to the radios. While the motive of the BN operatives who would fund such festivities with liquor, pork, etc maybe less than sincere, the action is appreciated in the same way that people from different longhouses would invite each other to a makan after a successful hunt.

    Once “vote buying” in rural areas is better understood and seen from the 3 factors, then I think the Opposition will design better strategy to preach their views for good governance in rural areas, without competing on the elements of pomposity and excess, typical of BN.

    Comment by MERAMAT TAJAK — January 18, 2011 @ 12:23 AM | Reply

  5. The Urbanites are educated > 60RM no thank U Sixty thousand Ok
    lah. The Ulus the innocents, eman puloh okay kah? you see the differences. Now who are the Sinners? The ONE who worked in PUBS or the Politicians said I am holier than thou.

    Comment by orangkampung — January 17, 2011 @ 7:04 PM | Reply

  6. If you have a share of Taib’s spills, would you be crying and complaining?

    Build your relationship with Taib or his cronies or Taib’s family members. Soon you’ll get your share and you’ll stop complaining.

    Recently, I did a check with my kampong folks. Nobody seemed to have heard about land grabs and other “evils” Taib purported committed as commonly alleged on this blog. And nobody seem disturbed. Well, they don’t care.

    What do they care about? Food on their tables, their children’s education, the availability of healthcare services within proximity, good roads and having nicer homes.

    The Malaysian gov’t has made a lot of progress in providing what my kampong folks care about.

    Nobody care if it is BN or PKR.

    So, go have a life, people!

    Comment by Jake — January 17, 2011 @ 4:09 PM | Reply

    • Get your Rm60 and wrap round your dick and wank yourself Jake. I supposed you are one of those who dream of getting some crumbs from Taib for none of his cronies ever appear here to publicly declared that they had benefited from Taib.

      Comment by Ronnie — January 17, 2011 @ 7:57 PM | Reply

      • Hahaha! Jake is only exercising his free speech to give praise to the robber government. He is aware of the issues.

        Let us be positive to Jake instead of criticizing his valid points.

        His kampung folks are indeed poorly informed. May be no computers or listen to Radio Free Sarawak.

        But if Jake is aware perhaps should he not take time to patiently inform his folks as a step to change things to the positive?

        Do take look around and see that they are thousands of people suffering from the generous gomen development policies.

        Think how sad it is. There are many people suffering from lack of food and water out there in the hot sun because your beloved government chopped down their trees! Poisoned land and rivers…

        Don’t worry Jake you can change your thinking and you will appreciate which side to stand on when the people rise up.

        Hope you will be on our side.

        Comment by Anakorangrakyat — January 18, 2011 @ 12:51 PM | Reply


      Comment by babai — January 17, 2011 @ 11:47 PM | Reply

    • where your kampung jake?

      Comment by Dummy — January 18, 2011 @ 4:05 AM | Reply

      • Kpg Biawak, Lundu. And no, nobody in the kampong ever heard of HU.

        Comment by Jake — January 18, 2011 @ 8:48 AM | Reply

  7. if votersr told that giving a vote in return for favours is SINFUL CORRUPTION,
    but NOT returning d vote is instead accepting d favours as GIFTS
    Do U think these innocent(naive) voters may at least abstain from voting for d
    CORRUPTING party ?

    Comment by tk — January 17, 2011 @ 3:15 PM | Reply

  8. Well said Mr SKY but nothing is stopping many other crusades of change like myself from volunteering and going to the ground in remote rural areas to educate the people about the long term implications of voting for BN and set their minds free from Taib’s imprisonment. After 47 years and 30 years under the paramount thief minister, many have realised that the RM60 to RM150 they received come every elections actually caused them to lose their NCR lands forever if not for the bravery and commitment of NGO land lawyers who fought the cases in court for them.

    Comment by Mata Kuching — January 17, 2011 @ 1:22 PM | Reply

  9. This Taib Mahmud regime has been around for 30 years–in fact longer than the premiership of Mahazalim–and the good people of Sarawak have allowed it to continue until recently. The re-emergence of Dayak nationalism and the struggle to protect native rights which had remained dormant for far too long (50 years after the formation of Malaysia) will mark the end of this despicable and corrupt regime.

    Our leaders in Kuala Lumpur should take full responsibility for allowing Taib Mahmud to rule unchecked, enabling him to sit on the political throne and act with impunity. Is a question of birds of the same feather sticking together or have they all been bought by Taib? Badawi, what have you been doing over the last five years– and Mahazalim too. There must be a peoples’ commission to bring abusers of power to account for their wealth and betrayal of public trust.T heir ill gotten gains must be returned to the national treasury and they should be put behind bars together with hardcore criminals.

    I wonder how, for example, the state investment arm can be repackaged as a family business when in the first place Taib Mahmud as a politician entrusted by the people of Sarawak to administer the state should not be in business. This sick man is a symbol of arrogance of power and mother of all corruption in Malaysia. How can a chief minister use a royal coloured Rolls Royce as his official car when the standard vehicle is Proton Perdana? This is blatant display of his ill gotten wealth and unchecked power. I also wonder what the Anti-Corruption Agency which reports to the Prime Minister is doing? Maybe it is too busy trying to catch petty thieves, preying on opposition politicians and fixing civil servants.

    Comment by Ito — January 17, 2011 @ 9:43 AM | Reply

    • Try these 2 methods that will weed out all undesirables in politics :

      1) ASSET DECLARATIONS of adun and all immediate relatives, also all political post bearers at regular intervals

      2) TERM LIMITS on all aduns/state hired contractors (2 terms at maximum)

      The above 2 should also be the criteria for the people to vote by. Any adus wannabe who cannot accept the 2 above conditions should never be voted by the Rakyat.

      Comment by AgreeToDisagree — January 17, 2011 @ 12:44 PM | Reply

      • When PR become the govt, yes we should/must implement these…

        asset declaration and term limits……yes, agreeing 101% to the idea… and we should have that in the PR menifesto….

        Comment by Dummy — January 17, 2011 @ 1:09 PM | Reply

  10. Why you keep writing about the same thing over and over? So boring ah, old man!!! So passé!

    Comment by Iskandar Zulbryner — January 17, 2011 @ 9:05 AM | Reply

    • because people like u and other Sarawakians like u r so pathetic that u need to be reminded over and over again of the pathetic BN. What role do u play apart from being pathetic on blog? Pathetic …

      Comment by ah pek — January 17, 2011 @ 10:03 AM | Reply

    • Dear SKY,
      Thank you for reminding us, especially to those young and senile need to be reminded all the time.

      Comment by F18 — January 17, 2011 @ 12:47 PM | Reply

  11. “But the majority of Sarawakians still live and work in ‘ulu’ areas. As long as they are imprisoned within their isolated remote rural enclaves, future elections in Sarawak will continue to be influenced by the corrupt practice of vote buying.” The Government all this while are pushing ‘Development Politics’ deep to the Jungle BUT Its You people also all this while Continue to ACCUSE the Government of stealing and robbing the ‘ulu’ lands!!!

    Comment by BlackMagicWoman — January 17, 2011 @ 8:05 AM | Reply

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