DAP working the ground to realise Pakatan’s Sabah, Sarawak dreams

by Sheridan Mahavera
The Malaysian Insider
December 02, 2013

Instead of handing out flyers, holding ceramah and spewing propaganda against the ruling Barisan Nasional, DAP is now trying a different tack to win the hearts and minds of voters in rural Sabah and Sarawak.

It is on a building spree. Not highways or electricity grids. But small water systems, (kindergartens and micro-hydro projects) that help improve the lives of remote villages somehow overlooked by BN.

The new venture, called Impian Sabah and Impian Sarawak respectively, aims to break the psychological hold BN has over rural Sabah and Sarawak folk. It is an approach to show that DAP or any opposition party is not the demon that it is made out to be.

By making a real difference in the lives of rural Sabahans and Sarawakians, said DAP assemblyperson for Kapayan Edwin @ Jack Bosi, the party hoped to convince them that it was a party of action and not rhetoric.

But a Sarawak-based academic pointed out the DAP risked playing the same patronage game that Sarawak and Sabah BN had mastered. In the end, its successes could be used against the party in an election.

Building rural and deepening urban networks

This is the brainchild of DAP veteran Lim Kit Siang after the party and its allies in Pakatan Rakyat (PR) failed to make as much inroads as they had hoped to in the two states in the 13th General Election.

Lim, who is now party parliamentary leader, said the coalition has to redouble its efforts to penetrate the rural areas of Sarawak and Sabah.

“Although Sabah is among the richest states in terms of natural resources, it still has the highest poverty rate in the country. Until 2010, 43% of households in Sabah had no access to clean water and 20% did not have electricity.”

The campaign involves identifying villages that need and are willing to allow volunteers come in to provide assistance, said party rural outreach coordinator Tam Kar Lye.

“We identify what they really need like water or electricity and then we do a proposal for the project. After that, we source for funds from either the public or corporate sponsors.”

It has built gravity feed-water systems in two villages in Sarawak since September.

For the Impian Sabah initiative that was launched on November 27, it is also going to build a gravity feed-water system in a village in Kota Marudu and in Tenom.

The initiative relies entirely on volunteers. Not just party activists but non-party people who want to give back to society.

These are people like Zi Xiyang, who got tired of being a keyboard activist and a few months ago, plunged into the wilds of Sarawak to build a gravity feed water-system in a remote Bidayuh village near Bengoh.

“The villagers did not even get compensation after they were moved out to make way for a dam. They lost their native customary rights lands.

“We built ties with the villagers and now, some of the volunteers are helping to organise a fund drive to help them build a community hall,” said the 28-year-old.

Zi is still not a DAP member. But the goodwill that comes out of participating ensures that programme helps the party continue to deepen its appeal among urban youth like him.

To date, DAP has registered 300 volunteers for these projects.

Can’t fight fire with fire

But the initiative is also fraught with risks, said Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas) political scientist Dr Faisal Syam Hazis.

He said DAP risks perpetuating the patronage politics of Sarawak BN that has kept the ruling coalition in control of rural Sarawak.

“It is the type of politics that BN is very good at and for which it has unlimited amounts of money. Once they catch on, they will go in and splash more money and projects and say that they are better at serving the people than DAP.”

That has occurred, admits DAP publicity chief Tony Pua. In Impian Sarawak’s third project, the state government came in to finish a water supply system the DAP was building in a village in Betong.

“But it is (state government’s involvement) a good thing, because it spurred the state government to do what it was supposed to in the first place,” said Pua.

Another risk, said Faisal, was that DAP could scare off more Malay and Melanau voters, Sarawak’s third largest ethnic community, by going into the rural areas alone.

“Before the 2011 state elections, there was a decrease in support among Malays towards BN,” says Faisal. But when DAP dominated the urban areas in 2011 and was perceived as being a Chinese party, support dropped.

“In the 2013 general election, support for BN among Malay-Melanaus was at 80%.”

Empowering the rural vote

But it is not just the physical infrastructure that DAP builds in these villagers.

According to Tam, who has been to many of the Impian projects, talks with the villagers after the tools had been put away for the day almost always revolved around politics.

“Many villagers don’t even know that their vote is secret. They have also been conditioned to think that if you vote for the opposition, you won’t get any development.

“Many still think of their elected representatives as their rulers. So we try to educate them that they are, in fact, the real rulers as they hold the votes. It’s part of our programme to empower them.”

It is this mental infrastructure along with the physical one that can alter the rural political landscape.

Faisal said any party that wants to be an alternative to BN in Sabah and Sarawak needs to offer a compelling counter to BN’s narrative of development-for-votes.

“If the projects are complemented with voter education and awareness programmes like teaching them the importance of voting, and differences between party and government, then these projects can have a real impact.”

But for the time being, said Pua, votes were secondary.

“We are there to make a difference in these people’s lives. If the votes don’t come then that’s too bad. But we are content to know that we have helped them.” – December 2, 2013.

  1. #1 by cutedevilnabil on Monday, 2 December 2013 - 3:19 pm

    Dap’s initiated campaigns of Impian Borneo’s should be supported by every Malaysians be its support on the ground to volunteer oneself physically basis, support on monetary basis,support by donating materials needed on such large scale project too, are most welcome but to donate in-cash is no 1 welcomed as it is far more practical ,as it is not easy to delivery of material on site,as the said village(s) located within deep jungle where routes is still inaccessible by 4wheel drive……viva Dap ,salute Dap ,encore Dap and with Allah blessing the Impian Borneo initiated by Dap’s will be an eye opener to million more yet to discovery richness exploration to the Borneo Natives and to the Borneo patriotic Children..amin

  2. #2 by sasha pranth on Monday, 2 December 2013 - 3:32 pm

    I applaud DAP for working tirelessly to bring some semblance of modern living to the marginalised people of Sabah and Sarawak – it’s about time. However being a political entity, the greater agenda is votes in the next GE. BN plays that game… and so now must the opposition too if they want to touch base with and win the hearts of the people. Only one request – do not exploit them further. Respect them as the true sons of this soil. If you are really sincere in your efforts, they will know what to do come the next GE.

  3. #3 by lauksnatlks on Monday, 2 December 2013 - 3:38 pm

    Just like the missionary schools, Organizing Kindergarten and other Education programme would reap long term political benefits as the kids will be tmr’s voters. These scheme also applies to West Malaysia as well.

  4. #4 by Bigjoe on Monday, 2 December 2013 - 3:56 pm

    This things should have been done long ago.

    Another thing that should have already been organized long time ago – volunteer tuition classes for the long houses – given PR superiorly qualified leaders, they will be able to recruit superior teachers that could leap frog the long houses education by leaps and bounds..

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