Is a racial divide breaking out in Sarawak after GE13?


“We Malays are afraid, if we vote for the opposition, the Chinese will take over and the Malays will be finished”

Sheriden Mahavera and Desmond Davidson, The Malaysian Insider

On the eve of the April 2011 Sarawak state election, Zainal, a Kuching resident, looked at a DAP rally that was taking place across the road from his restaurant and shook his head.

“We Malays are afraid, if we vote for the opposition, the Chinese will take over and the Malays will be finished,” said the Kuching resident in his 50s.

This sentiment was shared by many in the Malay community.

The voting patterns in 2011 and 2013 appear to suggest that a racial divide is breaking out in Sarawak which has always prided itself on being ethnically harmonious.

As the DAP managed to capture more votes from urban voters and increase its tally of parliamentary seats in the 2013 general election, it had the opposite effect for its partners, PAS and PKR.

These two parties, which thought they could rely on support from the Malay and Melanau community, saw these voters returning to the Sarawak Barisan Nasional.

Sarawak’s political landscape is now fractured with the opposition being made up of mostly Chinese legislators on one side and the government with mainly Bumiputera representatives on the other.

A study by Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas) of voting patterns between the 2008 and 2013 general elections and the 2011 state election and conversations with Melanau Bumiputera in Sarawak seem to suggest so.

The study revealed a shift in support among Malay-Melanau voters from 2008 to 2013.

Unimas political scientist Dr Faisal Syam Hazis said in 2008, Malay-Melanau support for BN declined while votes for Pakatan went up. But in 2013, the trend was reversed. Whatever support Pakatan had gained from the Malay-Melanau community shifted back to the BN.

This occurred against a backdrop of DAP capturing more political territory in 2013. After winning 12 Chinese majority state seats in 2011, it gained four more parliamentary seats in Sarawak last year.

Unlike in the peninsula, Malays are the third largest community in Sarawak. In some government statistics, they are lumped together with Melanau – another ethnic group whose members include Christians.

According to the Statistics Department, the Iban form the largest group at 29% followed by the Chinese community at 24%.

But the size of their community does not reflect their standing in Sarawak politics.

For instance, the Chief Minister, Tan Sri Adenan Satem, is Malay. The previous minister, Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud, was a Melanau Muslim as was his predecessor, Tun Abdul Rahman Yakub.

This is one reason why Malays are among Sarawak BN’s most loyal supporters. In 2013, 81.4% of the Malay-Melanau popular vote went to the BN, according to the Unimas study.

However, three years before that, the BN only got 73.4% of the community’s popular vote.

Faisal said support among Malay-Melanau for the BN began to drop in the 2008 election.

“But after they saw how the DAP was making major breakthroughs in the 2011 election, especially among the Chinese, urban Malays who had voted for Pakatan before shifted back to the BN,” Faisal told The Malaysian Insider.

Almost all of the DAP’s victories were in Chinese majority areas.

“There was a feeling that if the DAP won a lot of seats, Malays will lose power to a numerically superior community.”

Read more at: