Can BN Still Secure The Dayak Votes?

(Bernama) – KUCHING — As rural voters, the Dayak community generally are quite predictable in their voting trend to tip the scale in favour of the Sarawak Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition.

But to what extent the BN is confident of retaining the 29 predominatly Dayak seats out of the total 71 state constituencies in the April 16 state election with a bigger majority remains to be seen.

Based on the latest Election Commission (EC) statistics, Dayak voters accounted for 41 percent or 401,716 registered voters, followed by Chinese voters at 31 percent (303,737) and Malay/Melanau at 28 percent (274,343).

By and large, the Dayaks depended on the government to bring rural development projects but the extent to which the state government had been able to pacify the growing sense of frustration and unhappiness among them wil certainly determine whether it will continue to gain their loyalty and votes this time.

Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas) senior political science lecturer Dr Ahi Sarok said the BN would be able to retain most of the seats but, in some areas, it would find it quite difficult to defend the seats because of the delay in providing the much needed development in a particular area.

With the native customary rights (NCR) land title ownership remaining a thorny issue at every election, he said the BN would need to convince the people otherwise and, for which, the opposition would use to woo the voters.

“It is safe for me to say that in some areas, the opposition will make significant inroads but not enough to win and in some Dayak-majority areas the majority will be reduced,” he told Bernama here.

Citing Ba’kelalan, Balai Ringin or even Kedup as some of the “grey’ areas that the BN was predicted to have a tough time, he said the provision of clean water and 24-hour electricity supply and tarred roads to connect the scattered longhouses and villages were a simple but effective strategy to win the hearts and mind of the people.

As far as the NCR land issue was concerned, he said the question was whether the land owners were being paid compensation by the government based on the market value, including the Bidayuh villagers affected by the Bengoh dam project near here.

Dr Ahi said the issuance of NCR land titles on areas not affected by land acquisition for development purposes would have some positive impact, especially among the state BN coalition while the opposition might exploit the provisional native customary rights (NCR) land lease issue to their own advantage.

“Land issue is the heart of all issues,” said Sarawak Dayak Graduates Association (SDGA) president Dr Dusit Jusit.

As a strategic management trainer, he said a lot of rationalisation needed to be done depending on how effective both sides could penetrate these affected areas to resolve and rectify the matter.

While the state government should be lauded for taking proactive steps to implement the perimeter survey for NCR land under the New NCR Initiative of the Tenth Malaysia Plan (10MP), it was a common perception that the Sarawak Land Ordinance was used under the guise of setting up plantation projects to seize NCR land and allowed private companies to carry out plantation and logging activities without the owners’ agreement.

But for now, he said, it looked like the ruling coalition had the upper hand in dealing with the people’s sentiment, which varied from place to place, if one was to travel from Lundu in the state’s south-western tip to Limbang in the north.

“Sentiment is one thing but translating it into votes is another thing,” he said, adding that the people were better educated nowadays besides having access to information.

He said the youths were being exposed to the outside world, where a lot of developments recently had motivated people globally especially in the political sphere.