Whither the Sibu Chinese voters?

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It is difficult to predict how Sibu residents are going to vote. But after a slew of small talks targeted at Christians and females, Ngu Ik Tien detects a slight shift towards the Pakatan. But will Najib’s Santa visit cancel out those gains?

Political commentators, politicians and even the local folks are uncertain about the political preferences of Sibu Chinese voters for this coming by-election. Sayings like ‘still water runs deep’ and the Chinese idiom 鸭子划水 are used to depict the current situation.

In fact, many hold the view that the BN candidate, Robert Lau Hui Yew, will probably win as a large majority of Malay, Melanau and Iban votes would go to the BN. Additionally, most of the 2,500 army and postal votes will also go the BN’s way. A couple days ago, the underground gambling syndicates also placed odds on the BN’s majority over the DAP being more than 2,000 votes. I felt the same way too, until…

Yesterday (10 May), I attended a ‘seminar’ organised by five Pakatan Rakyat (PR) Christian leaders. Around three hundred people, mainly Sibu Christians, showed up. Over the last two weeks, PR Christian leaders had tried at least three times to reach out to the Sibu Christians by holding dialogues or seminars but the response had not been very encouraging. At the first and second meetings, fewer than 50 people attended. About 70-80 people showed up for the third seminar when YB Ngeh Koo Ham was the sole speaker.  As you might know, Ngeh is a Foochow Methodist who has had an active church life in Sitiawan.

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Christians constitute about half of the population of Sibu.  The Sibu churches, especially the Methodist church members, have often been regarded as conservative and pro-establishment Christians. In this regard, the Pakatan Rakyat seminars, especially the latest one when 300 people were present, were a breakthrough of sorts. The speakers generated reasonably energetic responses from the floor. Apparently, the PR leaders were reaching out to the Sibu Christians in engaging fashion!

I called a friend the following day and asked her opinion about the seminar she had attended. She responded that she was very touched by the messages. She also said that she did not expect so many Christians to turn up; some were pastors of Methodist churches.

The next evening (11 May), there was a seminar called “The Night of Mulan 木兰之夜” obviously targeting female voters. A local resident, the manager of a local hotel, remarked, “Pakatan’s strategy is new and interesting. They give you choices. They have special seminars for women and Christians as well. They are all on the same evening. Some even want to attend both.”

The Sibu voters whom I have talked to –  ranging from retirees, school teachers, small businessmen to former leftist and local Chinese newspaper reporters – are all pro-opposition; except for one who has not made up her mind yet.

I also attended several campaign dinners in support of Robert Lau Hui Yew during this past week. I discovered that there was always someone at my table disagreeing with points made in the speeches by the SUPP leaders.

Today someone told me that the underground gambling syndicates had slightly reduced their odds on the BN’s winning majority.  Based on all these signs, perhaps the Chinese votes for Pakatan candidate, Wong Ho Leng might turn out to be higher than we expect.

READ MORE:  Hakam supports constitutional amendment to lower voting age to 18

Of course, I still find the Chinese voting trend to be full of uncertainty. After all, my observations are based on limited exposure to election campaign activities and a few talks with some local folks. But what I am sure of is that the people are evaluating and re-evaluating their positions. Maybe the arrival of Datuk Najib and his early distribution of “Christmas gifts” in one or two days time will create a new atmosphere and arrest the momentum towards the Pakatan. That could still happen.

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