No loss for Sarawak’s rural villages as BN counters DAP’s Impian projects
Villagers and Impian Sarawak volunteers move a rock to make way for a piping project in Kampung Long Luping, Lawas, Sarawak. DAP says its initiative will ultimately benefit rural people even if it cannot deliver votes in the face of Barisan Nasional's machinery. – The Malaysian Insider file pic, November 10, 2015.
With DAP's Impian Sarawak gaining traction in remote communities, it was only a matter of time before Sarawak Barisan Nasional (BN) would have to respond to counter the impact of the opposition party's popular initiative to provide rural folk basic amenities such as water supply and roads.
The Sarawak BN's message is simple yet deceptive: it tells villagers that it is useless to support DAP because Impian Sarawak projects are inferior in quality. Whereas, the BN will provide better roads, water supply and other services.
The message is being spread by Sarawak’s ministers to all villages and is repeated in the BN-controlled regional press, in order to nullify Impian’s impact ahead of state elections next year.
The deceptiveness lies in the picture it paints of DAP as a rival state government, whose job is to provide these services.
The Impian project, however, was started by the opposition party to deal with deficiencies in Sarawak BN’s own government delivery system.
The BN campaign caused heads to shake in DAP, but its leaders argued that Impian would ultimately benefit Sarawak’s most deprived communities.
Political analyst Dr Faisal Syam Hazis has in the past warned that BN would go on the offensive once Impian Sarawak took off in late 2013.
Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem urges Sarawakians not to be taken in by DAP's Impian Sarawak, as the state prepares for elections. – The Malaysian Insider file pic, November 10, 2015.
In a development race where the Sarawak government has bigger machinery and more resources, the state would win, said Faisal, formerly of Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas).
In November last year, Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem did just that. He announced allocations worth more than RM655 million for minor rural projects.
Last April, Adenan urged Sarawakians not to be taken in by Impian Sarawak.
This was followed by Sarawak BN ministers and politicians dismissing Impian projects as publicity stunts.
But Sarawak DAP chief Chong Chieng Jien does not think BN’s new narrative against Impian is a problem.
Despite Sarawak BN’s messages in the local media, it has not stopped demand from villages towards Impian projects.
It is learnt that Impian is currently planning 16 projects which include infrastructure, education and medical camps throughout the vast and remote state.
“It’s good that we managed to wake BN up from their slumber and forced them to pay attention to their neglect of the poor and rural areas,” said Chong.
On the other hand, there is already a mentality in Sarawak that the party you vote for has to provide for you no matter if it is the government or the opposition.
“So if you don’t do anything about it to show you can deliver, then people go back to the BN anyway.”
State DAP chief Chong Chieng Jien (right) says Impian Sarawak is to address real problems faced by Sarawak's rural folk, while the project's coordinator Tony Pua (left) says the party is not in it for the votes. – The Malaysian Insider file pic, November 10, 2015.
The Impian programme, Chong said, was never meant to compete with the state government in providing basic amenities to rural folk.
It was aimed at meeting needs of the rural people in the interior who were locked in a cycle of poverty that made them reliant on patronage politics.
“You can’t go into the villages and talk about good governance or fighting corruption because their concerns are more basic than that.
“You need to show them something tangible,” said Chong, the Bandar Kuching MP and state assemblyman for Kota Sentosa.
By providing a water supply system or building a road, Impian would free them of worrying about those basic necessities, said Chong.
“Then they can start thinking about bigger issues such as good governance, higher education and jobs.”
If the competition spurred by Impian is able to jolt the Sarawak government into meeting those basic needs, then the DAP initiative would still have fulfiled its original aim.
“In the end the rural folk are the beneficiaries,” said Chong.
DAP national publicity chief, Tony Pua, who coordinates all Impian projects in Malaysia, insists that the party is not in it just for the votes.
“Even if it does not make a political difference for us, it makes a real difference in the lives of people who have had to live with no electricity, water, roads. And that cannot be seen as a loss.”