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Behind DAP’s election losses in Sarawak

With support from its traditional Chinese base appearing on the decline in the state, DAP needs to do some 'honest soul-searching', says analyst.

Nur Shazreena Ali
3 minute read
A man rides his motorcycle past a single DAP banner put up amid the flags of other political parties including DAP's fellow Pakatan Harapan component PKR at Kampung Sapit in Sarawak.
A man rides his motorcycle past a single DAP banner put up amid the flags of other political parties including DAP's fellow Pakatan Harapan component PKR at Kampung Sapit in Sarawak.

A Sarawak political observer says DAP will need to conduct some “honest soul-searching” following its poor performance in the recent election, warning that the party’s support in the state from its traditional Chinese voter base is on the decline.

While DAP managed to retain the seats of Pending and Padungan, it also lost five others, leaving it with just two representatives in the 82-seat legislative assembly.

Speaking to MalaysiaNow, James Chin of the University of Tasmania said that Chinese voters in Sarawak were unhappy with the way Pakatan Harapan (PH) had governed the country throughout its 22 months in power.

“DAP must conduct some honest soul-searching to uncover the root cause of its poor performance,” he said.

“Without this, it will be difficult for the party to correct its mistakes.”

Part of DAP’s problem in the Sarawak election was the significantly lower turnout of voters, even in Pending and Padungan which it managed to defend.

In Pending, voter turnout was only 48.3% while Padungan saw just 42.7% of its voters making their way to polling centres on election day.

A fishmonger in Padungan who introduced herself as Aunty Lim said she had not bothered to vote as she was disappointed in PH’s performance during its stint in Putrajaya.

She has also had her hands full trying to recoup the losses caused to her business by the Covid-19 pandemic, she said.

“He is not guaranteed of a win, so he has to fight for it,” she said of the DAP candidate in Padungan, Sarawak DAP chief Chong Chieng Jen.

Chong won the seat with 4,686 votes, beating Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) candidate Wee Hong Seng by a slim majority of 1,198.

In Pending, meanwhile, Violet Yong won with 5,188 votes – a 540-vote majority over Milton Foo of GPS.

In the previous state election, DAP had won the Chinese-majority seats of Padungan, Pending, Kota Sentosa, Bukit Assek, Pelawan, Tanjong Batu and Pujut with comfortable margins.

But in Bukit Assek, a DAP stronghold in Sibu, GPS candidate Joseph Chieng won this time around with 4,684 votes against 3,810 by DAP’s Irene Chang.

There, too, voter turnout was low with only 49.29% casting their ballots on Dec 18.

DAP also lost Pujut and Pelawan which it had won in the 2016 polls.

Even in Padungan, where the party won, many who spoke to MalaysiaNow said they were disappointed with what they called the opposition’s broken promises.

They said they had not bothered to vote as a form of protest against “the rocket”, a reference to DAP’s logo.

“I see no changes here after five years,” one of them, Thian Ah Jan, said.

“I’m so disappointed. If you look at Batu Kawah, it’s much more developed there. We are in the middle of the city centre but there’s not so much progress.”

The lower turnout of voters has also been attributed to concerns over Covid-19 and outstation voters who did not return for the election.

Chin said voters’ support for PH had been on the decline even before the Melaka election in November.

He also spoke of a strong sense of regionalism which he said had stirred reluctance towards peninsula-based parties.

He said the emergence of local opposition groups like Parti Sarawak Bersatu and Parti Bumi Kenyalang had also caused a split in votes.

“Besides the unhappiness of the Chinese with DAP, anti-Malaya sentiments in Sarawak are quite high,” he said, citing also the push for “Sarawak first”.

“DAP and PKR are not widely accepted in Sarawak because of strong Sarawak nationalism.”