January 22, 2009
Sim Kwang Yang, Malaysiakini
This is another masterpiece by Sim Kwang Yang which Sarawak Headhunter recommends to all opposition leaders, strategists, activists and campaigners, especially from Malaya, to read carefully and learn from, if they wish to topple Taib Mahmud and the state BN in the next state elections. Comments by Sarawak Headhunter as usual in red.
It is up to the opposition to turn them against the BN.
During the Japanese Occupation, the Japanese soldiers by and large did not dare to venture too far outside of the town areas of Sarawak, for fear of the hidden blowpipes. Once silently struck down by the blowpipes, it was a simple matter for their heads to be taken, and quite a few heads that one sees in the longhouses today were made in Japan.
This marked a revival of the Dayaks' headhunting customs of old which had been largely stopped during the time of the Brookes. Needless to say it scared the Japanese soldiers shitless.
One example can be seen in the Sarawak Museum today, of a Japanese army doctor's head, complete with his round-rimmed spectacles.
There is a lesson in this for the opposition to learn from, which for the time being Sarawak Headhunter will not elaborate on. Suffice to say for now that sometimes a silent campaign is more effective in scaring or shutting the enemy out. This has nothing to do with actually blowpiping them or cutting their heads off - sometimes just the mere threat of the same would be sufficient, and that is merely one aspect of it.
Scare the BN shitless so that they won't even dare to set foot let alone campaign in the Dayak areas!
Employ silent strategies so that they won't know what hit them!
Being severed from the Malayan Peninsula by a vast expanse of water, the political sky over the fair land of Sarawak has very different hues and colours. Sometimes, the political quirks and kinks can seem incomprehensible to politicians and people from outside the state.
Mostly this is because they do not make any effort to really get to know, study and understand Sarawakians. Many think they know better about Sarawak than Sarawakians themselves. These attitudes get them nowhere. What works in Malaya doesn't necessarily work in Sarawak and what works for Malayans doesn't necessarily work for Sarawakians, even more so if there is a complete lack of understanding in the first place on the part of the Malayans.
As an example, what the Kuching Malays do and say is not necessarily followed by even the Malays of other parts of Sarawak, let alone the Dayaks. The influence of the Kuching Malays does not stretch too far outside of Kuching and they do not have a strong rural power base, which is partly why they have been outmanouevered by Taib Mahmud and why Abang Jo will probably never become Chief Minister even though he is the Deputy President of PBB.
The centre of the Sarawak Malay anti-cessionist and nationalist movement was Sibu, not Kuching, a factor exploited by Rahman and Taib (both of whose family origins are from Mukah - and Malaya, Kelantan to be more precise). It is not a coincidence that except for the first Governor - Abang Jo's father - after the formation of Malaysia, all the rest have been from Sibu (in the case of Rahman, Mukah).
If PKR falls into the trap of listening too much to the Kuching Malays and even the Kuching Chinese and Dayaks for that matter, they will never be able to capture Sarawak or get anything positive done. Does PKR even know who these people are? Can they even identify them? That is now the danger, if we are to depend entirely on PKR. DAP knows better in this regard, but can only be counted on mainly in the Chinese areas of Sarawak, although there are admittedly some DAP leaders who have managed to get some measure of following in certain Dayak areas.
Part of the reason for this discrepancy is that the collective imagination of Sarawakians is not shaped by the national media entirely, but also by the local media in Sarawak in all forms, including and especially the radio which is often the only source of information about the outside world in much of the Sarawak rural heartland.
All the newspapers in various languages are pro-BN government of course. They are all owned by companies and business interests that depend on the state government for survival. The BN control over the formation of public opinions is water-tight.
So it would appear, though the talk in Sarawak coffeeshops say otherwise.
In this way, the Sarawak BN is able to monopolise the content and the style of political discourse throughout the entire state. Alternative or dissident voices can hardly ever find the space to articulate their views. With telephone access limited to the towns and some semi-urban areas, the power of the Internet has yet to establish a foothold.
In contrast, the flow of information from the state government and its leaders to the people even in the most remote village communities is entrenched by a tightly controlled system of government administration, encompassing the police, the Residents, the district officers, the information officers, and the agriculture officers.
Not forgetting the Kemajuan Masyarakat - KEMAS (purported "Community Development") - spies, who report all opposition moves and tendencies to their political masters.
In the rural areas, this firewall of information control does mean that the political frame of reference of the voters is designed by the BN leaders to legitimate their position as patrons, with the villagers being brainwashed into the dependence syndrome. The carrot must be reinforced with the stick, so fear of losing this patronage is instilled into their minds over the past decades.
The opposition must devise strategies to break the people free from this vicious circle of information control, patronage and fear. The opposition must convince the people that they are capable of being a viable replacement government to the BN and that their leader can replace Taib as Chief Minister. Is there such a person amongst the opposition ranks today? Will there be such a person?
Quality of political narratives
In the towns, the voters are likely to be much better informed. Now they also enjoy the convenience of the Internet. Being financially independent and expecting development as a right, many urban voters in Sarawak are less vulnerable to the carrot and the stick. That explains partly why the DAP and the PKR were able to win seats in the 2006 Sarawak election. Many Chinese voters in smaller towns still tend to be blinded by the awesome BN propaganda machine.
Not necessarily - Sarawak Headhunter has seen Chinese voters even in smaller towns exercising fairly independent judgment. DAP can and should still play an important role here, especially where the Chinese vote could be a deciding factor.
One casualty of this closure of the public space in Sarawak is the questionable quality of political narratives in Sarawak.
The opposition has to up the ante here. PKR newspapers and newsletters, even VCDs, for example, should be made more widely available at an affordable cost, especially throughout rural Sarawak, in Iban and other native languages as well. This will offset the lack of reach of the internet and would even prove to be far more popular than the BN-controlled media, which is mainly crap.
Include as much of the blog writings and comments as possible and allow for open debate - this will make the opposition media a good and inexhaustible open source of material, narrative and discourse on the political affairs of Sarawak.
It is high time also for Pakatan Rakyat to start thinking seriously about having their own TV station, if they really want to capture Sarawak in the next state elections. Beam it in from Kalimantan, Indonesia if necessary. That will give Taib and the Sarawak BN many sleepless nights.
In 1978, I suffered reverse cultural shock when I returned from a first world country like Canada to a third world territory like Sarawak. The intellectual, cultural, and political backwardness of Sarawakians hit me in my face like a train.
When I helped to pioneer the formation of the DAP Kuching Branch that year, it was the first time that the opposition party was making a serious entry into Sarawak state politics. Sarawakians knew next to nothing about this political party, though they had been a brand name party in West Malaysia since 1967.
Immediately, my main opponents in the Sarawak United People's Party (Supp) branded the DAP as a Peninsular party, and therefore "foreign" and "alien", neither acceptable nor relevant to the political life in Sarawak. I, together with other DAP local leaders, were portrayed as merely "treacherous running dogs" for Orang Malaya, a term tinged with undisguised contempt for all things that originated from West Malaysia.
This twisted piece of anaemic logic worked in favour of Supp in my nearly 20 year involvement in active politics. I could win in the Kuching parliamentary constituency three consecutive times, but my many attempts to win a state seat failed. I believe this silly piece of garbage argument was finally laid to rest in the 2006 general election, almost 30 years after the appearance of the DAP on the shores of Sarawak!
This twisted logic of branding the DAP as a West Malaysian worked for the good part of three decades because of the BN's failure in regional integration through equitable socio-economic development. For 45 years after independence, the lived experience of Sarawakians is one of post-colonial exploitation by Kuala Lumpur.
While the rich natural resources like oil and gas in Sarawak has been largely sucked into the national coffer, to be used as a cash cow by the federal government for the benefits of non-Sarawakians, all socio-economic indicators in Sarawak are many decades behind richer states like Selangor and Johore. There has been next to nothing for Sarawak's industrial and manufacturing sectors.
This widespread discontent among Sarawakians of all races has been projected onto the social and ethnic level as well. Sarawakians' mistrust of anything to do with West Malaysians borders on the xenophobic.
There are quite a few large army camps in and around Kuching City. The soldiers from these camps are almost exclusively Malays from West Malaysia. Their relationship with the Sarawak Malays has sometimes been strained, because of some soldiers' unsatisfactory relationships with Sarawak Malay ladies. Once, in the late 60s, this strain erupted into a public fight near the renowned Kuching open air market. Such brief altercations have still been reported until today.
The Sarawak Malays have a name for these soldiers: lipih, which in the local Malay dialect means "cockroach"! My Malay friends in Kuching tell me they have more friends among the local Chinese and Dayaks than with Orang Malaya.
The Sarawak Malays do speak a kind of Malay dialect which would sound like a foreign language to a Malay first time visitor from West Malaysia. The tone and the vocabulary are vastly different from the West Malaysian Malay dialects and the official Bahasa Malaysia.
Without doing research, I cannot ascertain the lineage of the Sarawak Malays. But their approach to religion is also unique.
Sarawak Malays are deeply devoted Muslims too. But they have been spared the kind of religious radicalisation that has emerged in West Malaysia since the 1970s. That is why numerous attempts by PAS to establish a bridgehead in Sarawak have not yielded any success. By and large, the Sarawak Malay/Melanau Muslims are far more tolerant in matters of religious freedom than their Peninsular counterparts.
A similar trend of alienation also exists among the Sarawak Chinese. Generally, they have a low opinion of West Malaysian Chinese, calling them "Sai Bay Kia", (small people from the west).
They may all be Chinese, but they speak so differently. My impression is that the Sarawak Chinese find their visitors from across the South China Sea too aggressive, too "Kia Su", and too cold. As for me, I certainly have many more friends of all races in Sarawak than those in West Malaysia, despite my long residence in the Klang Valley.
I hear that this strange sense of self-identity exists in the university campuses located in West Malaysia. While students there will flock together as Indians, Malays, and Chinese, Sarawakian and Sabahan students tend to socialise as Anak Sarawak or Anak Sabah.
In the political consciousness of Sarawakians, they are probably Sarawakians first, and Malaysians second. I still read on the Internet postings on Sarawak blog sites reviving the call "Sarawak for Sarawakians", the battle cry of the Sarawak National Party (Snap) in the early 1970s, when they were vanquished to the political wilderness.
Sarawak Headhunter pleads guilty to this, but has now changed it to "Sarawakians for Sarawak" on the advice of a good friend. Anyone has a better battle cry?
Therefore, this anti-West sentiment was successfully manipulated by the Supp against the DAP in Sarawak throughout the 1980s and 1990s. By now, it has lost the magic of its empty logic.
The irony of course is that the SUPP, being part of the BN, has also been more than subservient to the UMNO Malayans.
There are two good reasons why I wish to revisit this old haunt for me.
PKR supremo Anwar Ibrahim has announced the grand intention of the Pakatan Rakyat to launch a full-scale offensive to take power in Sarawak in the next state election there.
Already, there are many postings by supposedly Dayak netizens on the sites of Sarawak bloggers calling PKR a "West Malaysian party". They could be genuinely misinformed Sarawakians, but then they could be agents provocateurs preparing the ground for BN parties. It is time I examine again why such a perception is faulty.
PKR is a Malayan party. There are no Sarawakians in any senior positions in PKR. Anwar Ibrahim, the informal head of PKR, has even made himself head of PKR Sarawak (and for good measure Sabah) as well. How does that accommodate Sarawakians in PKR? What misinformation or faulty perception is that?
Whatever it is, Sarawak Headhunter is certainly not a BN agent provocateur.
Or perhaps so that they may learn to use the local blowpipes and blowpipers against the local BN. To do this they will really need to get to know well the Sarawakians they are dealing with and take advise from the right Sarawakians and treat Sarawakians properly. Can they and will they?
Are they willing to give Sarawak back to Sarawakians? Or are they willing to give Sarawakians their rightful place in PKR and in Malaysia?
Sarawakians for Sarawak!