By June Rubis
We were like a bad bar joke: two Bidayuhs, a Lun Bawang, an Iban, and two Malays walk into a DAP ceramah in Kuching. The crowd is mostly Chinese, and the speeches so far are all in Mandarin.
“I don’t understand what they are saying,” I complain to my fellow Bidayuh.
“Neither do we, and that is why we drink,” he replies, handing me a can of beer.
The next day is Election Day for Sarawak, and we, the motley crew representing the urban non-Chinese, cast our votes for DAP.
Times have changed for urban Sarawakians who all this while have embraced DAP as a home-grown party despite it having its origins in West Malaysia. We have seen the party struggle to grab a foothold in the state political arena for many decades.
It may be a Chinese-based party but for many of us urban voters, it represents the best possible choice for change of a state governance that we have grown weary of. Plus, you have to admit, their mascot is very cun.
Unsurprisingly, DAP has done very well in the urban areas (and 30,000 Ubah plush toys have sold out in less than two weeks), and soon everyone’s jumping on the bandwagon about how the Sarawak Chinese have rejected Barisan Nasional.
I jokingly tweet about feeling neglected as an urban Dayak who had voted for “ubah”, and how the Chinese are getting all the credit.
And then, it starts to get a bit nasty. The Chinese community in Sarawak are accused of rejecting multi-racialism. Seriously?
I ask you, pick any Sarawak Chinese and ask them whether they have indigenous relatives, either by blood or marriage, and they will answer you in the affirmative. Sarawakians are a plural society, and we are proud of it. We may identify ourselves as Chinese, Bidayuh or Lun Bawang but at the heart of it, we are always Sarawakians first.
Blaming the divide between the urban and rural votes in the state election on race is lazy analysis.
It is all too easy to blame a group of people — either the Chinese for “rejecting multi-racialism” and voting for DAP, or the rural indigenous population for being “short-sighted, and naive” and voting for BN — than to acknowledge the real issues on the ground.
Let us put aside, for now, the obvious vote-buying, intimidation, trickery and unfairness during the electoral process that we all know happened during the election.
What we have to acknowledge and try to understand is that for the most part, the rural population still identify and support BN as the only genuine state government. Dismissing the voting results from the rural areas to the corruption process is simplistic and lazy because it absolves do-gooders from having to go on the ground, and try to understand why the rural peoples feel beholden to BN. We need to go beyond tweeting/facebooking/blogging about our outrage of the state election results.
Years of indoctrination cannot be undone in one state election, yet please do not mistake me for being dismissive about the results.
As a Sarawakian who has lived most of her life in this state, I am quite happy with the outcome. We may not have the government that we had hoped for but yet 45 per cent of my fellow Sarawakians voted for a change of government.
And this has given me hope.
I acknowledge that Pakatan Rakyat has given Sarawak a collective hope that we have not seen in years. That a change of government is indeed possible.
It is not the fiery speeches from the ceramahs that has inspired me per se, but the thousands of my people — Chinese, Bidayuh, Melanau, Iban, Malay — that came out despite the fear of being seen as “opposition”.
And now we, urbanites of Sarawak, ARE the opposition. There is some beauty in this.
For those two short weeks of intense campaigning, I would hope that those who came from West Malaysia with the genuine intent to help Sarawak, had a quick glimpse at what we have lived with for the past 30 years. You may not understand why we see things the way we do, but I do hope that this is the beginning of what will be a long process of trying to understand and help.
To my fellow Sarawakians who were outraged with how our brothers and sisters came from West Malaysia with their own ideas of doing things, let us at least acknowledge that their abrasiveness, lack of protocol, enthusiasm, and yes, naiveté, of how things work in Sarawak, and overcome our own inhibitions of “this is just how things are”. They helped us get our voices back. Their speeches, while at times biased towards West Malaysian issues, inspired us so that we too can speak out, loud and proud, and not be afraid. And yes, a lot of us were afraid for many years.
Instead of being angry and outraged at the huge interest in Sarawak, let us use this to inspire ourselves to be more involved in our state issues.
We do not like how the West Malaysians are doing things? Then let us lead the way.
Let us find the humility that there are still things we need to learn. Do not worry about the condescension that they sometimes show towards us. I am beginning to realise lately that it is more of their reflection of fear and confusion than anything else.
There is so much to do for Sarawak, on the political and civil society front, and we have to realise that it starts with us Sarawakians, but we do not have to do it alone.
And maybe, one day, we can move on beyond being a bad bar joke, and prove to the rest of the country that when we cast our votes, we indeed cast our votes for the representatives that we felt were best suited for the job, and not because of the colour of her skin.
*June is very sad that she did not manage to get an Ubah plush toy.