KUALA LUMPUR, May 11 ― The return of Chinese support to Barisan Nasional (BN) is limited to Sarawak, according to analysts who rejected claims the phenomenon was reflective of national sentiments.
They asserted the community’s swing towards the ruling coalition in the Sarawak election on Saturday was driven by local political considerations that would not apply in the general election due no later than 2018.
Instead, one said the result was an indictment of the opposition parties’ failure to avoid infighting or move beyond their dependence on animosity towards BN rather than affinity for their own candidates and proposed policies.
Universiti Malaysia Sarawak’s (Unimas) Dr Arnold Puyok explained that Tan Sri Adenan Satem replacing Tun Abdul Taib Mahmud as chief minister introduced a variable that prevented developments there from being a yardstick for support elsewhere.
Arnold also pointed out that BN’s landslide victory was more due to the non-Chinese support for the coalition rather than a sign of the former community’s return to BN’s fold.
“So I don’t think the results in Sarawak can be used as a barometer for BN’s electoral standing,” the head of the university’s department of politics and international relations told Malay Mail Online when contacted.
Other analysts similarly said the Adenan factor meant it was inaccurate to use Chinese support there as a gauge for the community as a whole. One insisted the Chinese unhappiness with the coalition has worsened nationally since the previous general election.
They also said that national matters that the opposition had attempted to capitalise on with little success in Sarawak ― such as the Goods and Services Tax (GST) and controversies surrounding Putrajaya ― would come into play during the federal election.
“This election is a referendum for the chief minister. The next GE is a referendum for Najib, two different things altogether,” Unimas senior lecturer Dr Jeniri Amir said, referring to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.
BN’s Chinese-based party MCA claimed last Sunday that the Sarawak poll results showed increased support from the ethnic Chinese voters, indicating they were once again placing their trust in the ruling coalition.
However, Arnold and Jeniri attributed the phenomenon to Adenan’s policies and courtship of the Chinese community that were not replicated by Putrajaya, which again limited the applicability of the May 7 result to other parts of the country.
“The Adenan fever captured the political imagination of Chinese voters. Among others, his pro-Chinese reforms (include) allocating RM12 million to Chinese schools, also not calling the Chinese immigrants, recognition of UEC and overall policy of equality, seeing Chinese as equal,” Jeniri said.
While acknowledging the eight per cent swing in Chinese votes to BN, Jeniri highlighted that the coalition did not win in seats where the ethnic Chinese formed more than 80 per cent of the electorate such as Pending, Padungan and Batu Lintang.
Academic Assoc Prof Dr Faisal Hazis, the head of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s Centre for Asia Studies, argued that BN’s success in semi-urban areas such as Batu Kitang, Bawang Assan, Dudong and Piasau was driven by largesse, which was more effective in areas deprived of development.
He added that Chinese seats which BN wrested from DAP such as Batu Kitang were up to 40 per cent Bumiputera, who were traditionally pro-BN.
DAP also failed to capitalise on its previous momentum or build on the success of its “Ubah” campaign that previously resonated with voters, he said.
“You don’t expect voters to continuously vote for you because they don’t like BN. If you don’t put up strong candidates, candidates who can perform, people will not vote for you,” he said, citing Batu Kitang, Batu Kawah, Meradong as examples.
Last Saturday, BN took in 72 out of 82 seats contested, more seats than the 71 available in the state assembly before last year’s redelineation.
PKR contested 40 seats and managed only to retain its previously-held three seats while DAP only secured seven from the 31 seats, five seats fewer than the 12 it won in 2011. PAS and Amanah failed to secure a single seat.