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By Lian Cheng
The practice of politics based on ethnicity in Sarawak came about naturally due to historical and cultural factors as well as the deliberate divide and rule policy of the British colonial masters. It is something that Sarawakians have been living with for the past 12 elections.
While Sarawak is still a distance from getting rid of politics of ethnicity to adopt politics of meritocracy, counting seats and tabulating racial composition of a constituency is still the prelude to any election for any political party, be it general, state or by-elections.
For those directly involved in politics, ethnicity composition in a seat is directly affecting their chances of winning. And for the top brass handling a party, the counting of seats is even more crucial as the number of seats they hold will determine if they are able to take over the government. Seat counting is thus, the most important element in every election.
Following rumours that the Sarawak Election is around the corner, let us also do some math to understand better what is in the heads of our politicians.
For the coming 12th Sarawak election, it has been rumoured that that the ruling state coalition Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) is very confident in all the Malay-Melanau seats.
The Melanau community has so successfully integrated into the Malay culture that most times, it is hard to differentiate the two communities. The most noticeable distinction is that there are Muslim Melanau and Christian Melanau in Mukah.
This is why there is a ‘gentleman agreement’ that if a Mukah MP is a Muslim, then the candidate for Tellian constituency must be a Christian and vice-versa.
There are nine Melanau seats in Sarawak – Kuala Rajang, Semop, Daro, Jemoreng, Nangka, Dalat, Tellian, Balingian and Jepak.
As for the Malays which make up the third largest ethnic group in Sarawak, it has 20 seats. These 20 Malay seats are Stakan, Tanjung Datu, Pantai Damai, Demak Laut, Tupong, Samariang, Satok, Asajaya, Muara Tuang, Sadong Jaya, Simunjan, Gedong, Sebuyau, Lingga, Beting Maro, Saribas, Kalaka, Kabong, Bukit Kota and Bukit Sari.
Apart from the Melanaus, the minority group of Kedayan whose population concentrates in the Niah area have also assimilated well into the Malay culture. Presently, the Kedayan community make up the majority in the two constituencies of Bekenu and Lambir. Both of these two seats are stronghold of GPS.
The Malay-Melanau-Kedayan constituencies total up 31 seats, which make up 37 per cent of the total 82 state seats.
From the minority of Kedayan, let us move to the Bidayuh. The Bidayuh which has a population of over 200,000 people and form the fourth largest ethnic group after the Ibans, the Chinese and the Malays, has eight state seats – Opar, Tasik Biru, Serembu, Mambong, Tarat, Tebedu, Kedup and Bukit Semuja.
As federal ruling coalition Pakatan Harapan (PH) was able to win the parliamentary seats of Mas Gading (which consists of Opar and Tasik Biru state seats) and Puncak Borneo (made up of Serembu, Mambong and Tarat state seats), there are rumours that GPS may lose more Bidayuh seats in the coming state election due 2021.
Meanwhile for the Chinese majority seats, there are 16, namely Padungan, Pending, Batu Lintang, Kota Sentosa, Batu Kitang, Batu Kawa, Repok, Meradong, Bukit Assek, Dudong, Bawang Assan, Pelawan, Tanjung Batu, Piasau, Pujut and Senadin.
Presently, GPS is holding six Chinese-majority seats including Batu Kitang, Batu Kawa, Repok, Meradong, Piasau and Senadin while the rest are held by PH and PSB.
It has been speculated that GPS may be able to wrestle back more Chinese seats as Chinese voters are now disillusioned with PH which, after the new federal government, after one and half years in power, has failed to fulfil many of its electoral promises. The flip-flop policies of the PH is also one main factor that may cause Chinese voters to withdraw their support for PH which controls eight out of the 16 Chinese majority seats.
The Orang Ulu which has a population of some 160,000 has five seats namely Belaga, Murum, Mulu, Telang Usan and Ba Kelalan.
As Sarawak Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) chief Baru Bian is an Orang Ulu and one who is well-respected by the community, it has been speculated that the Orang Ulu community will be inclined to grant him their support.
While Baru may be well-respected, other Orang Ulu political leaders from the other side of political divide such as Datuk Liwan Lagang (Kayan), Datuk Garawat Gala (Kelabit) and Dennis Ngau are all hardworking and responsible assemblymen. Like the Bidayuh constituencies, these Orang Ulu constituencies bear much uncertainties for GPS and these are the areas to watch out for in the upcoming Sarawak Election.
Presently, PKR holds only Ba Kelalan while GPS is in control of the rest of the four Orang Ulu seats.
Meanwhile, there are 22 predominantly Iban seats in Sarawak. These seats are Balai Ringin, Bukit Begunan, Simanggang, Engkilili, Batang Ai, Layar, Bukit Saban, Krian, Pakan, Meluan, Ngemah, Machan, Tamin, Kakus, Pelagus, Katibas, Bukit Goram, Baleh, Kemena, Samalaju, Marudi and Batu Danau.
Due to the tradition of “berjalai” (venturing out to seek for better livelihood), the Ibans which make up the largest ethnic group in Sarawak are actually making up a big chunk in other constituencies that may be dominated by other ethnic groups.
Presently, apart from Krian and Engkilili, all the Iban seats are intact with GPS. It has been predicted GPS will continue to retain the majority of these 22 Iban seats. —DayakDaily
Seats distribution according to ethnicity
|Dominant ethnic group||Constituencies||Number of seats|
2 Tasik Biru
8 Bukit Semuja
|Malay||1 Tanjung Datu
2 Pantai Damai
3 Demak Laut
8 Muara Tuang
9 Sadong Jaya
14 Beting Maro
18 Bukit Kota
19 Bukit Sari
|Melanau||1 Kuala Rajang
3 Batu Lintang
4 Kota Sentosa
5 Batu Kitang
6 Batu Kawa
9 Bukit Assek
11 Bawang Assan
13 Tanjung Batu
|Iban||1 Batu Danau
2 Balai Ringin
3 Bukit Begunan
6 Batang Ai
8 Bukit Saban
18 Bukit Goram
|Orang Ulu||1 Belaga
3 Telang Usan