By Erna Mahyuni
OCT 3 ― “All you East Malaysians need to do is vote out BN!” I hear that time and time again from various people in Peninsular Malaysia and it’s getting frankly tiresome.
I apologise to Sarawakians in advance for having to explain things on your behalf, but I have lived in your state so am not totally clueless. Unlike the many who think that all that is needed is a Braveheart-like uprising where the united peoples of Sabah and Sarawak rise up against tyranny and all that jazz.
It’s not that simple. And that’s my biggest beef with opposition rhetoric. It oversimplifies things, forgetting context and ignoring the complexities of East Malaysia.
One challenge both Sabah and Sarawak have is geography. We’re far removed from West Malaysia, quite literally, and in some ways it has worked out for the best but has also made integration tricky. There are far too many assumptions on each side about the other and “getting to know” each other requires a two- to three-hour flight.
Sarawak is a huge state and its terrain makes traversing it prohibitively expensive. The Penans and other interior-dwelling folk have it worse; they are forced to trek hours to the nearest transport stop to get to the nearest city. They do not have ready access to the things we city dwellers take for granted: piped water, electronic and physical media, hospitals and decent schools.
Even on the outskirts of Kota Kinabalu, the state capital of Sabah, there are schools that are little more than glorified shacks with crowded classrooms and malnourished children. Don’t get me started on the West Malaysian teachers who refuse their postings to Sabah and Sarawak or clamour to be sent home as soon as possible.
Racial tolerance is more pronounced here. Yet, the reality is that despite the “peace” between the various races in East Malaysia, it isn’t easy to get them on the same page politically.
Sabah, for instance, has various splinter parties that are also quite clearly delineated by race. SUPP is predominantly Chinese, PBS is mostly Sabah Bumiputera with a few Chinese people, the Muslim Bumiputeras once mostly congregated in USNO, but the BN-friendly now are in Umno.
It’s not much different in Sarawak. The various communities may get along better but dig down and their politics is the same old selfish Malaysian politics. It’s never about what’s best for the state or the country; it’s about what’s best for their own communities. Let the Penans rot in the jungles so long as my community gets first pick of lucrative contracts.
That is the reality of the Malaysian mindset; the preoccupation with what’s best for your own kind to the detriment of everyone else. Malaysians don’t seem to believe in “win-win.” It’s “I take everything and everyone else can go die-lah.” Which explains our love for monopolies.
PKR’s already shot itself in the foot by refusing to co-operate with local parties in Sabah and Sarawak. How am I, as a native from Sabah, supposed to place trust in a party that made Azmin Ali Sabah PKR chief? How am I supposed to believe that Anwar Ibrahim and his cohort won’t do the same thing and just hand out division chief titles to people from the peninsula as “rewards” to the faithful once the state is won?
What Pakatan Rakyat should be doing is forming alliances with local opposition parties. Instead, it intends to compete against them. Of course, BN will probably end up winning because of split votes.
Don’t get me started on people harping on about how Sarawakians should all unite and toss its current chief minister out. Here’s news for you: The reason he’s still in power is because the people who have benefitted from his position like him where he is. Ponder that for a moment.
It took Bruno Manser to come in and unite the various Penan tribes. It will take more than a well-meaning Swiss to unite the various factions in the two states. Sadly the people trying to play catalyst are not altruistic crusaders but those with an eye on Putrajaya.
By the way, because I have to keep reminding you, Sabah did vote against BN. But BN “convinced” PBS MPs to jump ship in the biggest “frog” incident in Malaysian history. Back in the day, Anwar Ibrahim was proud to be seen as “delivering” the state back to BN.