Wednesday, April 13, 2011

East Malaysia through West Malaysian eyes

I have been to East Malaysia many times on business trips but never really having had the opportunity to meet the ordinary people of Sarawak as I have had this past weekend. It was eye opening and a privilege I will not forget.

The Pakatan Rakyat machinery took off from the word go. The DAP machinery in the major towns no doubt was all ready for this day and their launch of Ubah was a brilliant branding exercise. The towns were ready for the picking as they saw crowds of thousands coming out to hear the new DAP candidates. To brighten the show, heroes from West Malaysia like the Lim father and son team and other YBs were there to share their stories of what happened in West Malaysia and how the Pakatan states were managed.

In the semi urban seats however where KEADILAN has to work, the mood was not as obvious to sense. There was no glitzy stage shows and appearances by Ubah the hornbill. However as our team began meeting the people in the coffeeshops and marketplaces we began to realise that there was a quiet hope for change. The wink in the eye, the pad on the shoulder followed by their assurance; “don’t worry, we support” was very much music to our ears. We walked into malay kampongs and they were receptive although it may be hard to discern gentle hospitality with “I won’t vote for the opposition” feelings. Orang Iban and Bumiputeras were angry because their lands were in the process of being taken away. One lady in a kampong going out in her crisply ironed BN shirt; came up to us and said; “I am paid to help them, don’t worry, I vote KEADILAN.” Later I discovered her house lies in the red line in danger of being taken by Taib’s government. I accompanied the local party chief to the police station to collect a permit and the officer downstairs, gave me a thumbs up, whatever that means.

I am hoping all this subtle winks and thumbs up and hoots from their cars are indication that the electorate is indeed ready for change.

The saddest thing however in my 3 days was visiting a malay kampong just outside Sibu town. The kampong was prone to floods and the ground was soft enough to have your feet sink in. In fact one of us in the team actually lost a shoe in the mud. Rotting timber lined the pathway to each kampong house and if you were unlucky, you would hear a crack and your feet would sink into a puddle of water. As you walk deeper into the kampong, some houses had no electricity.
A local told me, as he drove along a busy country road, that all this on the right and left were forest before but now all cleared. Virgin forest he had gone to as a child to hike in is now also gone. All this deforestation and haphazard development has brought about floods in the town.

We visited a family who had just lost their son, a 30 year old man. No clear illness was told to them but that he died of a disease which was only curable if he was sent overseas. The flat they lived in was 3 stories up. The dark stairway littered with rubbish and the stained cement walls unpainted. We visited the parents and the widow and her 3 young children. Many people lived in that dark apartment. A single short flourecent light lid the entire hall. It was obvious the family found it hard to make ends meet but now worse with another loss of a potential bread winner. We conveyed our condolences and took leave. My eyes opened and my heart wrenched.

Just 10 minutes away as we made our way back to the operations center, we passed by the massive bungalows in town. Most of them walled like little palaces. Huge glass windows to gaze on the bright sky but not the slums below. Many belong to timber tycoons or successful politicians.

This is what happens when corruption in government and unjust policies are allowed to fester for decades. Each wanting a piece of the pie without fair distribution to other less fortunate in society. I hope that change would come to Sarawak so that the people's plight might be lifted.