Bringing change to Sarawak: ‘The West Malaysian’s burden’?

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A longhouse in Sarawak - Photograph: wikipedia.org

To win the hearts of Sarawakians, one must stand on their ground and really listen to them instead of imposing peninsular values on them, says Mohd Izzuddin Ramli.

It is apparent that there are a lot of issues that need to be tackled by the political parties contesting in the Sarawak state election.

One just has to be smart and really comprehend the nature, characteristics and psyche of local inhabitants instead of plunging into dire straits, quarrelling for seats – like we can see happening between the opposition parties.

This undeniably has left the people questioning the reliability of some parties to handle the much bigger, serious matters in Sarawak when even small internal affairs cannot be settled intelligently.

Of course, for some, politics is about power. But it is not just about scuffling for power or position; there is also the responsibility of making sure the people’s needs are fulfilled.

But how far do we understand the needs of Sarawakians? Are we actually imposing our ‘peninsular’ values, cultures and style of politics on them? Do we think that the people from West Malaysia are superior and know it all?

Such egotistic or self-centred political action has of course disappointed many people, particularly those who are now ready to cast their votes.

There is another vital thing that most of us in West Malaysia have taken for granted: the arrogance and the feeling of being superior by carrying the burden of transforming people’s lives and giving them a better future.

I had a chance to talk with a stall owner during nomination day in Satok, one of the contested seats in Sarawak. I was appalled to hear her talking about the haughtiness of party members from the peninsula who had approached them to and try and teach them this and that or what should and should not be done. This obviously shows that the outsiders are being disrespectful towards local customs or adat.

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Apparently, many of us still believe and indirectly carry the same burden as the colonial rulers shouldered – ‘the white man’s burden’ – to justify their conquest.

This is much the same way the colonial British felt responsible for changing, improving and industrialising the developing world. They presumed and apparently felt it was the responsibility of the white people to govern and impart their culture to the non-whites – which served as a justification for European colonialism.

There is a Malay saying “di mana bumi di pijak, di situ langit di junjung” or “when in Rome, do as the Romans do”. The imposition of one’s own values on others must be avoided. It is ironic that West Malaysians head to Sarawak for the Sarawak election and try and teach Sarawakians their peninsula ways as if the Sarawak ways are wrong.

Take the recycled ‘Ubah’ slogan used by the DAP, for example. It is as if people from the peninsula know better and have come to bring about change. The slogan, which somehow sounds overconfident, may have, in a way, pushed the party further away from the people.

Some parties only play saviour when the election comes. Even so, what changes can a party bring when a party has been largely absent the rest of the time?

We have to admit that Sarawak is different from West Malaysia, politically and culturally. Therefore, teasing out the right issues and engineering the right strategy are vital.

Undeniably, corruption-related stories involving Umno politicians and peninsula-centred issues are important, but Sarawak has other issues that need to be attended to – issues that affect the rural people, for example.

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Sarawak is trying to fix problems such as non-existent tarred roads and electricity in certain areas. These are the things we should focus on. Bringing up issues that happen in West Malaysia is not a sensible thing to do. We should not drag in issues related to West Malaysia that have little resonance with Sarawak.

As for racial and religious politics, there is no ‘market’ for this in Sarawak. Sarawak has been promoting and proving itself as a state that practises tolerance. It is a state where ‘equality’ is preached and largely practised, disregarding differences of ethnicity, religion and even among political parties. This explains why Umno brand of politics is not acceptable in Sarawak and Pas is never popular in Sarawak.

This is a state where the people still believe in the power of humility. It is a state where the race card has no traction and racial scapegoating is futile.

To help and win the hearts of Sarawakians, one must stand on their ground and really listen to them.

Mohd Izzuddin Ramli is an Aliran executive committee member based in Penang.

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Azmil Tayeb
1 May 2016 5.24pm

Nicely said, Din!