COMMENT On the nomination day for the Sarawak state election on April 25, 2016, Lim Kit Siang, who was present at the Tasik Biru seat nomination centre, described the battle in Tasik Biru between Henry Jinep of the BN and I, as the litmus test for DAP in the Dayak majority seat.
Tasik Biru is a constituency that comprises 68 percent Dayak, 26 percent Chinese and six percent Malay Melanau. BN eventually won with a majority of 1,288 votes, garnering 6,922 votes (55 percent) against the DAP’s 5,634 votes (45 percent).
Although we lost the seat in a straight fight with BN-SPDP, we made significant inroads in this Dayak majority seat.
In the 13th general election, I contested for the parliamentary seat of Mas Gading, which comprises two state assembly seats - Tasik Biru and Opar - and garnered 5,293 votes.
In this state election, we obtained more votes (5,634) in just one state assembly seat alone. At the micro-level, we won in four out of 20 Dayak villages, with one of them as high as 70 percent. We averaged at 40 percent votes for Dayak localities. Such an achievement was unimaginable three years ago.
We managed to make significant inroads into the Bidayuh heartland despite BN’s systematic pouring of cash handouts on the last day and use of fear tactics - the villagers were told that the government would cut their water, electricity and welfare aid if BN were to lose the seat!
Furthermore, we achieved this despite the visits of the Sarawak Chief Minister Adenan Satem, Rural and Regional Development Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, Deputy Home Minister Nur Jazlan Mohamed and Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak himself at four separate occasions in the short 12-day campaign period, with additional cash and election promises.
In fact, the campaign team was astonished at the last-minute visit of the prime minister on the last day of the campaign! Bersih, which was in Sarawak to observe the election, has reported various serious election offences committed by BN, but there was no further action taken by the Election Commission.
Did we lose Tasik Biru because of BN money politics? I am not sure. But I am sure that we lost it because we decided not to buy votes.
We stood by our principle
Since the beginning of the campaign, quite a number of people have suggested to me, whether implicitly or explicitly, to hand out cold, hard cash to targeted voters in order to secure victory. By hook or by crook, to win is crucial. And you cannot beat the dark side by not playing their tricks. Or so they said.
Mathematically, if we were to buy 1,000 votes with RM50 each, we might be able to win the seat with RM50,000. (It turned out that we lost 1,288 votes, which amounts to only 644 votes to purchase to overturn the deficit).
Nevertheless, at the risk of losing the battle, we decided to stand by our principle and declined the agents who were all too ready to play intermediaries in paying cash to the villagers to secure their votes.
In the end, we lost the seat. When the result was announced in our election operation centre, many of us in the campaign team could not hold back our tears. We hugged each other and cried.
All the hard work that I had put on the ground for the past five years, as well as the many months of preparation by the election team, could not overcome the cash handouts, election promises as well as fear and intimidation.
DAP cannot and will not give up
But the DAP cannot and will not give up on Tasik Biru and our rural outreach because of this temporary setback. I remember the lady who wore the Ubat T-shirt with pride, carrying her baby and walking with a torchlight in the dark kampung path leading up to our ceramah venue.
I remember many of the villagers who, despite having financial difficulties, stood with us against the big money from the BN. I remember having discussions with the single mothers who canvassed for us but were fearful that their involvement in the campaign would deprive their children of the opportunities to study and to benefit from scholarships.
I remember another lady from a kampung who told me determinedly that her vote and dignity cannot be bought with money; I remember the faces of all of the campaign workers that were full of pride when I said, in my defeat speech, that “We have fought the battle with dignity and principle.” And I remember every face that looked to me with the hope of change and for a better future.
With the current inroads that we made, as well as the lessons learnt from this defeat with improvements on our rural service and campaign strategy, I am confident that the DAP will one day win the Tasik Biru state seat and the Mas Gading parliamentary seat. And we will win with our heads held high, with the pride that we have finally overcome the politics of money and fear.
Malaysians must continue to strive hard until justice rolls on like a river of righteousness on our land, like a never-failing stream. Till then, let us not lose hope. We must not give up!
MORDI BIMOL was the DAP candidate for the Tasik Biru seat in the 11th Sarawak state election of May 11, 2016.