For Dayaks, basic needs matter most

By Dennis Wong, NST

FOR the more than 395,000 Dayak voters, who make up 45 per cent of the Sarawak electorate, it is still the daily bread-and-butter issues that are expected to influence their voting pattern in the coming state election.

This segment, mostly from the rural areas, are least concerned about what is happening in the outside world, mainly because of the absence of the Internet where they come from.

For them, basic needs are cherished. It essentially means they would back anyone who can bring basic development to their doorstep.

For the Dayaks in the interiors — Ibans, Bidayuhs and Orang Ulu — many whose livelihood include farming, fishing and game hunting, a simple trip downtown on their longboats is a costly expensive affair.

Take for example Kapit, a sprawling district the size of Pahang, within which are the three state seats of Pelagus, Katibas and Baleh.
There are 31,775 voters in Kapit, with 80 per cent of them from the rural Dayak community.

A trip to Kapit town to purchase basic supplies can easily cost them between RM200 and RM500. What’s worse, the town is only accessible via the waterways of Batang Rajang.

Therefore, matters deemed as “urban issues”, played up by the opposition, such as good governance, government transparency, human rights and freedom of speech, have little impact on the Dayaks. Dr Neilson Elan Mersat, a political analyst on Dayak issues from Universiti Malaysia Sarawak, agrees that the community is still very much driven by basic needs and the urban struggle does not appeal to them.

“They do not see the direct impact of the urban struggle on their simple daily lives.

“Their day-to-day bread-and-butter issues are already giving them headaches, as compared to urban folk who spend much less on petrol for a trip to KFC or Starbucks. Imagine, the rural folk have to spend half of their salary just to get salt and cooking oil in town.”

He said the Internet also did not have much impact on these voters.

Although there has been much opposition propaganda, he said it was unlikely to strike the right chord as the rural folk still want Barisan
Nasional to bring them the development they badly need.

“They are attracted to the politics of development promised by BN. Of course, they want a better life, which means having roads, water and electricity,” Neilson said, adding that the rural folk would be on their way to becoming a high-income society when their basic needs are met.

Of the 28 predominantly Dayak seats (based on the 2006 electoral roll), 27 are held by BN, including Engkilili, which was won by Dr Johnichal Rayong on a Sarawak National Party ticket. He, however, joined the Sarawak United Peoples’ Party last year.

The other seat is Ngemah, won by Gabriel Adit who stood on an independent ticket in the 2006 state election but has since joined Parti Cinta Malaysia.

However, state Parti Keadilan Rakyat head Baru Bian argued that this time around, the rural votes may go for issues beyond the bread-and-butter ones.
“Yes, previous results show that the Dayaks have been strong supporters of BN, but this can change.

“There are a large number of Dayaks now who are well-read and educated. Their mindset would be different from the older generation.”
Parti Rakyat Sarawak president Datuk Seri Dr James Jemut Masing disagreed with Baru, saying it was still very much the development issues that shaped the mindset of the Dayak voters.

“At the end of the day, the people still want better living conditions, and everyone knows only BN can offer this to them. This is what matters.”
The state election will see whether the Dayaks in the interiors still choose development, or whether their thinking has finally been influenced by current issues.


*Note from MT Admin: Sarawakians, please speak up in response to this report. We would love to hear your views which matter a lot.