Hornbill Unleashed

May 2, 2011

Handbook for rural campaigning in Sarawak

Sim Kwang Yang

BY NOW, the DAP has deduced the urban campaign in Sarawak down to a science, after 33 years of practice. Since the DAP first came to Sarawak in the late 1970s, they have become experts at winning the hearts and minds of urban voters in Bumi Kenyalang.

But campaigning in rural Sarawak is largely left to the personal whims of the political personalities on the ground within the opposition front. The success of the BN machinery in rural Sarawak, in contrast, is a testimony to the strength of the ruling coalition in this state, the largest in Malaysia. The BN’s grip on power in Sarawak has yet to be shaken by the challenge from the opposition coalition.

From the opposition front’s point of view, there is a need to rethink their approach to rural campaign. There has to be a radical review of their traditional methods of campaigning in order to explore new ways of gaining the trust of rural voters.

At the moment, rural campaigning has been left entirely to the local personalities and individual leadership of the opposition candidates. The success or failure of the campaign depends wholly on the personal performance of the candidate.

Looking at the general behaviour of the opposition candidates, the first thing that comes to mind is that they leave their campaign to the last few days before the election. Then, because of a lack of resources, the whole campaign tends to crumble in the crucible of polling.

There is a need to re-examine this, and to consider a new way of politicking in Sarawak’s interior. There is an alternative method for rural campaigning in Sarawak, which I tried personally when I was an MP, with some degree of success.

In rural Sarawak, there is no alternative but to launch a full-time and all-out assault to raise the political consciousness of rural voters. This requires political education, and full-time work throughout the period in between elections, to agitate the people to embrace their own vision for ‘change’.

In every constituency in Sarawak, there are numerous voters who face practical problems in their lives and require the attention of politicians all over the land. The daily concerns of the rakyat in rural areas are probably more closely connected with their agricultural way of life than with grand political narratives. This could have something to do with their land claims, as well as conflicts and problems arising from land use. A dedicated people’s activist will never be out of work, attending to the problems of the farming communities all over Sarawak.

Every problem brought to the activist is a legitimate entry point for the social agitator to enter into the Sarawakian way of life. This provides the activist with a legitimate excuse to go into Sarawak’s rural interior and work towards a communal response to the problems faced.

The first instance of implementing this project could be the state constituency of Balai Ringin. It is a rural settlement about 16km from Serian and consists of mostly Iban villages. I have some Iban friends living there.

According to these friends, they would likely vote for the PKR candidate. But the PKR candidate did not even visit them. She was an unknown quantity, even though the local people knew her by reputation.

This goes to show that in Sarawak, where communication facilities are primitive, personal contact remains the most reliable means of spreading your message. Given the short campaign period, the number of voters that can be reached by any candidate is really limited. There is only one way to overcome this, and that is by a candidate meeting his or her constituents during the long period between elections, and not only during elections.

Our Iban neighbours today are friendly people, and would welcome visitors to their houses during non-campaigning periods. It could be just a friendly call, or it could be the start of a series of social interactions and collective problem-solving, involving the local leaders and their constituency.

The election candidate is also a leader, and he or she should devote his or her entire energy towards solving the practical problems of his or her rakyat, ranging from applying for agricultural subsidies, to replacing lost identity cards and so on.

In short, political agitators who aspire to the office of the YB must be prepared to sacrifice their time and money in building bridges between the people and their potential YB. The rural YB will have to sacrifice his or her personal life and time for the betterment of communities. Ideally, he or she could depend on donations from his or her constituents, to cover his or her political career expenses and other costs.

This is a tall order for our rural politicians. It will require the birth of a new generation of rural politicians with a completely revitalised sense of mission, and a new modus operandi. It will demand a revolution in the thinking about rural politics in Sarawak.

There have been models of success in the past. The victories of Baru Bian and Ali Biju are a shining example of organising the rural people of Sarawak. It is a matter of expanding on their success story to improve rural politics to cover the whole Bumi Kenyalang.


  1. One thing that i know about rural people’s attitude is…”THEY NEED MONEY”.NO KIDDING! Big or small, that’s doesn’t matter.That’s why BN know-how to get votes from this poor folks. BUT what they don’t know is WHAT ABOUT BRIBE or WHAT ABOUT CORRUPTION,of course it is not a good thing and the CAUSE it will bring!Well if you have guts to tell them,GO FOR IT!MAKE A CHANGE FOR SARAWAK FUTURE.

    Comment by Kobelco — May 3, 2011 @ 3:59 PM | Reply

    • We cannot fight fire with fire and money with money. UMNO led BN can even used few hundred millions stolen from us just to win the last state election. Continuous education and engagement with rural voters are the way forward. Many of my employees are from the longhouse but since migrating to the towns, they no longer ask money in exchange for voting BN. They would most likely take money from BN and vote Pakatan.

      Comment by Augustine Bong — May 3, 2011 @ 10:16 PM | Reply

  2. Besides SKY suggestion to engage with rural voters in a sustained and intelligently way(political education), my simple suggestion is to release the Draft Manifesto and Candidate List for public review, well in advance (as early as practical) of polling day.

    In the last election, not only the candidate list was a last minute work, the Manifesto was late. I fail to understand how this work, for the potential candidate: they don’t speak for PR yet, at that time when they go to the ground – and they had nothing concrete to tell “Independent” voters about PR policy direction, besides regurgitating Sarawak Report’s article.

    When all is said and done,I believe rural voters need to be treated with sincerity like any bonafide consumer, and the “change” product – need to be packaged, to really fulfil their needs.

    PR leaders, supporters and sympathizers should really stop dreaming up clever “sales” tactics to trick the voters, but to be a believer in what they proposed i.e that it would make a difference in the life of rural voters. And lets not feign sympathy : what’s important is to show that it make perfect economic sense, for e.g to propose RM 600 for retired folks above 60 y.o – to increase rural purchasing power, as a catalyst/boostrap to parachute rural economic dynamism.

    Comment by MERAMAT TAJAK — May 2, 2011 @ 6:41 PM | Reply

    • There is no short cut to winning the minds and hearts of rural voters. One towering person stands out over the rest of the Opposition candidates. He is non other than Chiew Chiu Sing, DAP state assemblyman for Kidurong. Chiew had fought many frustrating battles in Kidurong against the massive financial might of BN for many years before he finally won with a slim majority of less than 200 votes. Chiew was hailed as a giant killer, having defeated the then-SNAP president Datuk Amar James Wong way back in 1991. SNAP at that time was still in the Barisan.The majority non Chinese constituent has since been giving their mandate to Chiew to represent them. In the last state election, Chiew won by a massive 7,000 plus majority and according to poll statistic, Chiew won almost 64% of non Chinese votes. Pakatan’s rural candidates including political scientists and intellectuals have a lot to learn from Chiew Chiu Sing of DAP Kidurong.

      Comment by Mata Kuching — May 2, 2011 @ 7:49 PM | Reply

  3. There is only one God Almighty and the entire human race is His children. UMNO is fighting over the exclusive right to call God by a certain name. How stupid and as if God bothers about how He is called. It’s what in the mind and heart that matters to Him.

    Comment by Maggie Jair — May 2, 2011 @ 6:25 PM | Reply

  4. This is obvious and every ten-year old knows it. Like in every organization, the tragedy is that there’s always a huge gap between knowing and actually doing. Great organizations show that removing the gap requires relentless discipline which few politicians have.

    The remedy is for the party to be run by professional managers working as full-time employees with specific results to deliver. The party must have service centers in every kampong and these service centers need to be run by capable employees dedicated to helping the kampong people.

    In this manner, even if the candidate is not visible during the election campaign, the party already is.

    Yet, we cannot dismiss the fact that people will vote for the person who is closest and have been most helpful to them, no matter what party they belong to.

    Now, where does the money come from to pay all these party employees? There are so many ways to get money for the purpose and there are so many sources. Some service centers may not require as much money as they could be run by party volunteers who take turns.

    We’ve seen this model operating successfully for UMNO in some states. Over time, UMNO developed so many loyalists through this model.

    Comment by Peen Keening — May 2, 2011 @ 5:16 PM | Reply


    This news report reposted from Nutgraph shows KL democracy at work.

    It shows how the so-called democracy works in so-called “Malaysia” works.

    During the vote counting , police in Miri acted with impunity to remove opposition party members from openly challenging the vote count.

    The UMNO & PBB BN governments don’t care how the people and the whole world feel about these fascist police behaviour.


    Comment by Voter1 — May 2, 2011 @ 4:15 PM | Reply

  6. Yes! The model, too, is ancient. Touring the longhouses, every last one of them no matter how small and far away, to hear cases and needs and complaints, was required of district officers by the Brooke rajahs. Charles, in particular. If he learned that a DO had been sitting on his kubu all year, that DO would get the sack instantly. Personal attention was the only way the Brookes could have held Sarawak.

    Comment by Reader — May 2, 2011 @ 8:28 AM | Reply

  7. Maybe PKR’s Ibi was not serious and committed enough or PKR machinery was disorganised or both. She has been known to have worked on the ground for over a year but did she really get to know the people there and know their problems. There are many NCR land issues, lack of basic developments, poor education facilities, high unemployment etc. There is no reasons for BN’s candidate to be revoted with a higher majority. Do an honest and detailed post-mortem beyond BN’s money politics. In a rural constituency like this, multi-corners fight are expected and the rural voters need to be educated on recognising the Opposition symbol, be it PKR, PAS or DAP. Ibi should just stay focus on state election only and continue to work her way to earning the respect and trust of Balai Ringgin constituents for the next state election. There is no short cut in political success when fighting against the might of BN’s machinery and war chest.

    Comment by Mata Kuching — May 2, 2011 @ 7:32 AM | Reply

  8. My brother and his wife spent about a week campaigning for the Balai Ringgin PKR candidate and so did my cousin who was an ex-Penghulu. He told us about the sentiments on the ground as early as January when I visited him in Kedumpai. I have a total of 7 cousins in that area, my mother’s sister area. We did bring up our concerns regarding Balai Ringgin.

    There are areas under Balain Ringgin constituency that were hard to get to, such as Tuba, Mentu, Muding etc. I also heard from relatives that the candidate did not even bother to accompany my brother and his wife who were out there campaigning for her. Ce la vie!

    Comment by Christina S. Suntai — May 2, 2011 @ 1:20 AM | Reply

    • Dammed to majortiy of the Iban! just concluded election show’s how greedy and coward the Iban are!!!!

      I call upon the PR lawyers to abandon the NCR lands cases of the Iban right now…BB can concerntrate to those who vote for him. There alot of Lun Bawang and Kelabit case that need attention as well. Why help those who doesnt deserves help?

      Comment by Very Angry Swakian... — May 2, 2011 @ 1:16 PM | Reply

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