Malaysia's Sabah and Sarawak won't be taken for granted in GE13 | Connect Asia

Malaysia's Sabah and Sarawak won't be taken for granted in GE13

Malaysia's Sabah and Sarawak won't be taken for granted in GE13

Updated 29 April 2013, 14:43 AEST

Less than a week from general elections in Malaysia, and the latest opinion survey puts the Malaysian Opposition slightly ahead the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition.

The latest 'perception survey' was conducted by the Universiti Malaya's Democratic and Election Centre.

The survey was conducted over a two-week period after parliament was dissolved on April 4th.

Political scientist, Dr Arnold Puyok in the politically-crucial east Malaysian state of Sabah, has been watching campaigning closely.

He says the omission of Sabah and Sarawak on Borneo island may mean the survey's missed the true political temperature.

Presenter: Sen Lam

Speaker: Dr Arnold Puyok, Malaysian political analyst, Universiti Teknoloji Mara, Sabah, Malaysia

PUYOK: The survey doesn't tell us much about the sentiment of voters on a national basis, because Sabah and Sarawak, the two crucial states for Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat were excluded in the survey. So in my opinion, I think the survey is too peninsula-centric. It does tell us something about peninsular Malaysia, but not the country as a whole, because Sabah and Sarawak are very crucial for the BN and PR.

LAM: So to me, it's a glaring omission, if those two states are so crucial - the survey doesn't reflect the true temperature of Malaysian voters?

PUYOK: Yes, I agree with you. So I think the survey is only telling us about the voter sentiment in peninsular Malaysia but not the country as a whole.

LAM: As you say, Sabah and Sarawak are the two crucial states - how do they feel about Barisan Nasional?

PUYOK: I think in Sabah, because it's been left out in mainstream development for so many years, many of the voters here feel it's time for them to enjoy the development that only - for most people - that only the BN can provide. That is why the support for BN here (in Sabah) is quite high, because all of a sudden, Sabah has received alot of developmental funds from the government. So alot of voters are quite happy. But the fact that the opposition here is not strong - the opposition parties are fighting against each other - that gives the BN a set advantage over the opposition.

And don't forget the Sulu incursion has affected the mood of the electorate alot as well. Many people here (in Sabah) want security and want assurance that their sovereignty is protected by the government.

LAM: And of course, BN critics say that it was precisely because of the murky policies of successive BN governments in Sabah and Sarawak, but particularly Sabah, that the Sulu intrusion took place - because the boundaries were blurred, the maritime police for a long time turned a blind eye to the comings and goings of Sulu fishermen, people from the southern Philippines. And indeed, that's where the whole issue of 'phantom voters' came about - that many of these intruders and these foreigners from the southern Philippines were surreptitiously given identity cards?

PUYOK: Ya, ya, you're right I think this has been the concern of Sabahans for so many years - the fact that the Sulu group could intrude into Sabah so easily, speaks volumes about the failure of the (BN) government.

LAM: Despite all that, you think Sabahans would still cast their lot with BN? That they will still support BN because it's an entity that they're familiar with?

PUYOK: Ya, because the voters here (in Sabah) responded quite positively to the military action provided by the government.

LAM: Even in neighbouring Sarawak, they're contending with ongoing issues and allegations against the Chief Minister there, who is a BN man, I might add. Despite all that, do you think Sabahans and Sarawakians are still happy with BN in their two states?

PUYOK: I think in Sarawak, we have another problem there, in terms of how the voters will respond to the Global Witness video, to the allegations of land-grabbing. So I think it depends on the ability of the Opposition parties to really connect with the voters - to play up these issues.

LAM: Why do you think the Pakatan Rakyat has failed to connect with the eastern states of Sabah and Sarawak?

PUYOK: Many of the leaders in the Pakatan Rakyat, they fail to understand local sentiment here. If you want to play politics here in Sabah, you have to understand the culture, the tradition, as well as the sensitivity of the Sabah voters. You cannot say Sabah voters are the same with peninsular voters (those in western Malaysia), because here we have issues which are totally different from the issues in peninsula Malaysia.

And that's why in 2008, when there was a political tsunami in peninsular Malaysia, there was no political tsunami in Sabah and Sarawak at all.

LAM: So you think the last-minute attempts over the twelve to twenty-four months, by the BN government to 'lift its game' if you like, you think that has worked with voters in eastern Malaysia?

PUYOK: I think somehow it has worked very well. Ya, it has worked very well.

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