GST, cost of living issues take precedence in Sibu

In Lanang constituency, Lau (left) is facing SUPP new face Kelvin Kong.


Life is still relatively unchanged for Mr Hii, even after retiring as a secondary school teacher. He still goes to ‘tapao’ (order takeaway) the famous “dian-mian-ngu” to share with his family and continues to be a blessing to those around him.

But recently, this gentle and patient educator who is known for his good temper, suddenly lost it. At the dian-mian-ngu place, the 75-year-old burst out and lashed out at the government for implementing goods and service tax (GST).

“We are paying for import tax. Now we have to pay for GST. This is double taxation. I have been supporting BN (Barisan Nasional) for many decades, it is time to change,” said a visibly agitated Hii.

Some may say since GST was introduced in 2014, the present high cost of living could not be caused by it. Perhaps that is true, but the fact of life is, people are now feeling the painful pinch of GST. It is not lessening but getting worse by the day.

And it has become an issue to the advantage of the state Democratic Action Party (DAP). If the state BN Chinese component party Sarawak United Peoples’ Party was to fail in its attempt to wrest back the Chinese-majority seats of Bandar Kuching, Stampin, Sibu, Lanang, Sarikei and Miri, it will be not because of a Chinese tsunami, but the detrimental GST.

In Sibu, many retail businesses are suffering declining turnovers. Small or medium businessmen who used to make comfortable incomes suddenly find their businesses difficult to sustain. Many have made the mental preparation in case they are forced to close down their businesses.

The Chinese are known to be practical people whose priority is to take care of the needs of their families. Many Chinese even educated ones, cannot even tell the difference between state and parliamentary elections.

But for them, making a comfortable living is of utmost importance. With many hard hit by GST, it is no wonder that the issue is the main topic of discussion at DAP ‘ceramah’, night after night.

The success of the opposition campaign and propaganda lies in its ability to link GST to its initiator — the BN government — and they are thus able to convince the Chinese that they are suffering because of a falling government who is making wrong policies.

The ruling federal government has not made things easier for themselves. The constant stream of news of ministers suspected to be involved in corruption cases; poor management of security which leads to rampant crimes; nonsensical speeches by some federal ministers or leaders stoking religious and racial issues; huge leakages in government funding; and the lavish lifestyles of some high profile individuals all provide plenty of ammunition for the opposition to unleash during their nightly ‘ceramah’.

Just the topic of caretaker Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak already leaves the BN Chinese leaders with much difficulty to handle. There are so many questions surrounding Najib that remain unanswered, making them ripe for the exploitation of the opposition and the imagination of the people.

So DAP’s ‘ceramah’, as usual, have been well-attended. Compared to the previous years, yes, the crowd sizes are declining. However, don’t forget that these ‘ceramah’ are now only a click away where one can watch from the comfort of their own homes, live. Worse for state BN, now netizens in Sibu may access not only DAP ‘ceramah’ in Sibu but those in Kuching, Penang and other parts of Malaysia.

Datuk Andrew Wong Kee Yew

On the other side of the divide, the lack of topics to expound upon and exploit has left SUPP quite handicapped. The most effective issue that may still drive home points and retain some votes perhaps is the fact that opposition can only talk but can’t do much. That is the opposition’s most deadly weakness.

The second issue perhaps is that the voters don’t really see the concrete achievements or deeds of the opposition, thus giving the impression that they are “missing out” for the last five years.

While in Kuching, SUPP president Datuk Dr Sim Kui Hian is determined to go head to head in ‘ceramah’ against DAP, in Sibu, the two candidates — Kelvin Kong for Lanang and Datuk Andrew Wong for Bandar Sibu — prefer not to have nightly ‘ceramah’, only doing so once or twice per week. It is believed that this decision is due to the few options for SUPP Sibu, in terms of ‘ceramah’ talking points.

Instead, the two have been going out to meet constituents in restaurants, official functions and walkabouts, to make close-up and personal contact with as many voters as they can.

A check on the ground suggests that state BN will be able to wrest back Sibu seat but not Lanang seat. The illegal betting odds perhaps best describe the situation in the two parliamentary seats of Sibu and Lanang.

Bandar Sibu consists of the three state constituencies of Bawang Assan, Nangka and Pelawan. Due to the higher number of Bumiputera voters in the first two state seats, the going odds for Bandar Sibu is that SUPP’s Wong will by win 1,500 votes.  

As for Lanang which consists of Dudong and Bukit Assek, the prediction is that it will be a landslide for DAP. The betting odds suggest that DAP’s Alice Lau will win by at least 6,000 votes; a small consolation for SUPP as before the recent visit by Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg, the prediction was 8,000 votes.

In the 2013 general election, Lau defeated SUPP’s Datuk Tiong Thai King with a majority of 8,630 by garnering 26,614 votes while DAP’s Oscar Ling beat SUPP’s Temenggong Datuk Vincent Lau with a majority of 2,841 by polling 26,808 votes. — DayakDaily