Adenan factor a year ago but urban folk not falling for it now, says Sarawak DAP

Though all indications show that Sarawak Barisan Nasional is set to win big in the next state elections, the state DAP says popular moves by Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem will not have much effect on voters. 

Sarawak DAP chairman Chong Chieng Jen said many of Adenan’s policy announcements have been well received, such as his crackdown on illegal logging and recognition of the Chinese schools’ certification for civil service recruitment, but they remained just that – statements. 

Instead, had Adenan called for state elections in his first year as chief minister, the “feel-good factor” of having a new leader might have captured more support, the Bandar Kuching MP said.

“Adenan has packaged himself as liberal leader who is open-minded and dares to speak out against Umno. This is how he portrays himself. 

“But had he called for elections a year ago within the first year of being chief minister, the Adenan factor would have been stronger to entice urban voters, because of the feel-good factor.

“Now into his second year, he has talked a lot but has not delivered. He’s missed his golden window,” said Chong, whose opposition party holds 12 state seats, all of them in urban areas with large Chinese populations. 

The opposition has 15 seats in the current 71-seat assembly, with three held by PKR. 

Among Adenan’s policies which impressed at first but have not been followed through, Chong said in an interview, was the state government’s acceptance of the Chinese schools’ United Examination Certificate (UEC) for civil service recruitment and as admission into state universities. 

Sarawak became the first state in Malaysia to do so, in a move seen as Adenan’s attempt to win over Chinese voters who favour the opposition. Chinese education lobby groups in the peninsula are still lobbying Putrajaya for the same recognition. 

“His UEC announcement was impressive, but what has been done? It was just a statement. Until now, it has not seen any impact or change of state civil service recruitment policies,” Chong said, adding that UEC recognition was only in a limited number of agencies and not for direct employment with the state government.  

Sarawak is to go to the polls in March or April, before the term of its legislative assembly expires in June, with 82 seats to be contested after 11 were added in a recent redrawing of electoral boundaries. 

DAP is expected to keep its 12 seats in the elections, analysts have said, and the state BN under Adenan is expected to sail through with an even bigger win because of his popular policies.  

Adenan became chief minister in February 2014, succeeding Tun Abdul Taib Mahmud, whose massive wealth and family business empire have been documented by non-governmental groups, and who is still accused of alleged corruption and erosion of native lands in Sarawak’s vast interior. 

Adenan has asked Sarawakians to give him only five more years to fulfil his plans for the state and promised not to stay on – a point of contrast with his predecessor who stayed in power for 33 years. 

While Adenan has indeed made good on his pledge to crack down on illegal logging, Chong said, Dayak or indigenous voters still lacked basic infrastructure and medical services in their longhouses.

“People on the ground do not feel that anything has changed, especially in rural areas. 

“And they know that the state government has a great part to play in policies and licences for state land and forests.” 

Adenan, 71, has also put the Baram dam on hold but has been challenged by native rights’ groups to scrap it completely over the loss of ancestral lands.

Chong said the “Adenan factor” was a neutral effect in rural seats as these were already BN strongholds. 

“He does not add any plus points.”

 Still, Adenan has managed to cover wide ground in capturing the local imagination.

Besides the UEC recognition and crackdown on illegal logging, he has made English the second official language of the state, spoken against extremism and racism and appealed to the hearts of Sarawak nationalists who want the state to have greater autonomy from Putrajaya. 

He recently completed the first round of talks with the federal government for greater devolution of powers to the state, and announced that Sarawak now has the power to appoint officers in its federal civil service.

Federal agencies in Sarawak also have the power to decide on projects in the state, without having to refer to ministers in Putrajaya.

In urban seats where DAP has performed best, however, Chong, the Kota Sentosa assemblyman, said voters were more politically mature and understood that “political change” was needed. 

Asked about urban sentiments on split voting, where voters might prefer a ruling coalition representative for a local seat but the opposition at federal level, Chong said: “I think the federal government has overdone it this time, with its scandals, with the goods and services tax. 

“So I think people will see Sarawak BN as part of federal BN.” – January 23, 2016. 

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