[2921] A map of East Malaysian districts based on the 2019 median household income

So, I have managed to complete the map for Sabah and Sarawak yesterday after posting the map summarizing median income across Peninsular Malaysia at the district level. Here it is:

Some rights reserved. Creative Commons. By Attribution. By Hafiz Noor Shams

Just like the immediately previous post, these districts are colored based on the median household income, based on data from the 2019 Household Income Survey.

Out of 67 districts:

  • 20 districts have median of less than RM3,000 per month
  • 26 districts between RM2,999 and RM4,000 per month
  • 13 districts between RM3,999 and RM5,000 per month
  • 5 districts between RM4,999 and RM6,000 per month (Kuching, Samarahan, Miri, Penampang, Putatan)
  • 2 district between RM5,999 and RM7,000 per month (Kota Kinabalu and Labuan)
  • 1 district between RM6,999 and RM8,000 per month (Bintulu)
  • None with RM8,000 per month and above

This map is a bit of a challenge to me because unlike Peninsular Malaysia where I pretty much know almost all of the districts and their location, I could not immediately locate many of Sabah and Sarawak districts immediately.

Sarawak especially has complicated divisions, districts and subdistricts. The subdistricts threw me off a bit and I had to spend a little bit more time to draw Sarawak.

And a few notes:

  • Kuching has a spillover effect on neighboring districts. But I had expected Kuching to be more prosperous from median perspective. At least a green, but it is not.
  • Bintulu has the oil and gas effect, just like in Terengganu.
  • Miri gets a spillover effect from Brunei (and O&G)
  • Kota Kinabalu (and Labuan) is an exceptional prosperous city amid a state of reds.

[2854] Oh hello again Sarawak

Politics & government

[2821] Who are we to condemn Sarawakians?

I was in Sarawak during the 2011 election. I campaigned for the opposition in Kuching and its surrounding. I helped run a group of volunteers; run is probably an exaggeration but I will use run nonetheless. We were active in several seats but spent most of our time in Batu Kawa, about 10 miles to the south of Kuching. It was and still is a marginal seat. The young Christina Chiew won there. We as a team won.

About five years later, I am utterly disengaged from the campaign. I have no role in it. But that does not mean I feel nothing. When I read up the latest Sarawak election results from across the sea in Kuala Lumpur, I felt sad upon learning the Batu Kawa seat had changed hands, along with a handful of others.

Though expected, the results are still horrible for many who think Malaysia needs change badly. Tony Pua wrote “”¦on hindsight, our Sarawak battle was one of limiting the damage rather than one of consolidating our hold on these seats won in the last elections, or making gains in the rural districts.”[1]

But if I am experiencing melancholy, imagine the sense of devastation of those involved on the ground. Postings on social media say as much. They feel frustrated by the results, especially by the role of money and electoral corruption.

Even in 2011, pressure for corruption was evident. I witnessed it personally. There were several instances outside of town where potential voters explicitly wanted money in exchange for their votes. We — as far as I know — did not pay for it. I certainly would not pay straight from my wallet. There was no RM2.6 billion in my bank account, much less my pocket. Instead, we smiled, shrugged and moved on knowing we lost the battle in those instances. I was really too shocked to reply anyway.

What mattered we won the bigger battle because people were angry at Taib Mahmud so much that money would not matter enough.

But 2016 was different. There was more money it seems, and there was no Taib Mahmud. Furthermore, several friends from Kuching said residents were ambivalent about Chiew, citing her inexperience and track record. But whatever the complaints against her, the opposition, either DAP or PKR — I would put Pakatan Harapan, but there is no such thing in Sarawak — faced the Adenan Satem effect and the renewed vigor of money politics.

I can accept the popularity of Adenan. It was the same for Abdullah Badawi when the people was tired of Mahathir Mohamad. What worries me more and more is the role of money in Malaysian politics. The case of Sarawak is one where money for votes is the norm.

The obvious danger is that a wrong would never be wrong again. It is the snowball effect transforming the nature of elections. Democracy loses its meaning. Both elections and democracy as concepts risk becoming one-in-a-while cash transfer program, much like an ersatz BR1M.

It would be no mere pork-barreling anymore. It will be just bribery.

I am not condemning Sarawakian voters for participating however. In many ways, I understand why people take the money. It is a combination of desperation and power. Voters there have not much of a choice.

While in the peninsula, the people are not scared of the sticks and carrots of development politics, the case is different for rural Sarawak. They are at the mercy of the state — at Barisan Nasional’s generosity. If your place in the rural area gets an opposition representative, you would be marginalized. If you had no power and clean water supplies, there is a guarantee you will never get it from the state. The government will use the state to punish you, much more than they use it in the peninsula.

Would you condemn Jean Valjean in prison for 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread in order to avoid starvation? I would not and I would cut him some slack.

But for how long and how far a slack?

And if the whole of population engages in such corruption, would you prosecute all of them?

It becomes an outrageously impossible notion. I feel in the end, either you too participate in the corruption because it is the way of life now, or all of us stop and grant amnesty to everybody.

But the real life is rarely the latter option. Life is a snowball. At the national level, the snowball is rolling unmelted under the hot sun into 1MDB and Najib Razak. Nobody has been able to stop Najib or Barisan Nasional.

The snowball continues rolling on unabated, becoming our way of life just as money for votes is part of Sarawak’s politics.

It is in this sense that I am not condemning Sarawakian voters. Just as many of us in Kuala Lumpur feel powerless in the 1MDB case, so too Sarawakians feel, I think, in their local context. Who are we in the peninsula, then, to condemn Sarawakians?

We feel powerless about national politics. Why should we in the peninsula blame many Sarawakians for being powerless in their own state? There is no blame game to play here if we are honest and consistent to ourselves.

Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reservedMohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reservedMohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved

[1] — In addition to the pressing issues surrounding GST and Najib’s scandal, we emphasized repeatedly on the need for check and balance via a strong opposition to ensure that Adenan didn’t become the next “pek moh”.

Despite the seeming strength of the message, it obviously did not have sufficient traction even among the urban voters. People were sufficiently happy with the few apparent concessions Adenan gave. They were more than happy to overlook the continued corruption in the BN regime and the implications on the people via higher taxes. The rampant and blatant abuse of power by Adenan, such as banning Members of Parliament from entering the state also didn’t matter too much to them.

However, perhaps, had we not campaigned that hard, we might have lost even more seats. Therefore we must thank those tens of thousands of supporters who continued to stick to us under such trying circumstances. Hence on hindsight, our Sarawak battle was one of limiting the damage rather than one of consolidating our hold on these seats won in the last elections, or making gains in the rural districts. [Tony Pua. Paying the price for not ”˜paying up’. May 8 2016]

Economics History & heritage Politics & government

[2391] Tunku Abdul Rahman on the development of East Malaysia

As the Malaysian Parliament planned to vote out Singapore from the Malaysian federation, Tunku Abdul Rahman said this in the Dewan Rakyat:

…On the other hand, our relationship with Sabah and Sarawak has been excellent. We are desirous of carrying out extensive development programme in these two States, because we realise that under the colonial rule the development in the two States had been neglected. We know that they had joined us on their own accord and of their own free will, in hope that they would enjoy not only the independence, the prestige, which freedom brings with it but also to enjoy other fruits of freedom. They fit into the pattern of administration with the rest of the States of Malaysia so admirably well; and unless we can carry out some development however small it may be their hope and trust in us will, I am afraid, inevitably lessen… [Hansard. Parliament of Malaysia. August 9 1965]

Politics & government

[2350] DAP’s tilt at inclusiveness

There is a common denominator to any kind of respectable democratic system. The side with the most votes generally wins. There lies the importance of inclusive politics in a diverse society typical in Malaysia.

It is not enough to appeal to only one specific community in a competitive democracy as a whole. There is always an extra vote somewhere outside of the community that can make a difference. The communal divides have to be crossed just because those who fail will lose the democratic competition.

One of those divides in this country is language. There is no doubt that this divide exists in Kuching.

I have been in the Sarawak capital for nearly two weeks now and I have been trailing the state election campaigns of the DAP very closely. This gives me the opportunity to observe the party’s strategies and operations firsthand with respect to the election.

Kuching of the south bank — Padungan, Pending, Kota Sentosa and Batu Kawa — are Chinese-majority areas. In two of those areas, the Chinese make up no less than 90 per cent of the total voters. At the same time, it is inevitable for an impartial observer to conclude that the DAP is primarily a Chinese-based party. It is ethnically more diverse than any other political parties in Malaysia, with the exception of its Pakatan Rakyat partner PKR.

That does not negate its Chinese characteristic, however. This statement cannot be any further than the truth in Kuching, where its active membership reflects the demography of the city.

The composition of Kuching makes it only natural for Chinese to function as the primary language in the city. It is not a wonder that the DAP had used only Chinese for its political communication here in the past. There were not too many reasons for the local chapter to change.

While Kuching is so, the overall situation in Malaysia is more diverse. For a party with national aspirations, it has to widen its appeal beyond the Chinese community. It has to face the Malaysian diversity.

Continued reliance of the DAP on a single community that is also shrinking in terms of percentages will have the party boxing itself in a corner and eventually lose the democratic game at the national level. The DAP knows this and the party is addressing it. Kuching is a perfect example of the party’s try at inclusive politics.

The impression I get so far is that there is a remarkable swing against the Barisan Nasional government here in urban Kuching. Local reception to the DAP’s political rallies in the city has been impressive. In Sibu and Miri, news of more impressive turnouts was reported. Donations to the DAP meanwhile skyrocketed.

In stark contrast, the rallies of the SUPP have yet to make a mark. It is no exaggeration that the SUPP is lagging badly. The BN component party that is an MCA of Sarawak — the DAP’s foremost rival in the state — faces the possibility of becoming as irrelevant as the MIC, Gerakan and PPP.

With the big swing, Chinese votes alone could possibly guarantee the DAP seats in Kuching’s south bank. Yet, the party is not merely focusing on Chinese votes. It is trying to be inclusive.

For the first time in Kuching, the political messages of the DAP are done in languages other than Chinese. The English, Malay and Iban languages are now being used more widely in its pamphlets and posters.

Concurrently, the party is penetrating Bidayuh and Malay villages on the outskirts of Kuching for the first time ever. These areas were hostile to the DAP previously. This hostility, or perceived hostility, is absent today. Taib Mahmud and his allies are such a lightning rod that there is no anger left for anybody else.

Quite clearly, the situation is just right to grease the advance of the DAP’s inclusive initiatives.

The level of support for the DAP in Kuching has been tremendous so far. Members and volunteers of the DAP are showing exuberant confidence. It is hard not to.

In some small pockets within the DAP, however, there is a call for caution. Whether those supports will translate into actual votes will only be known after the polls close tomorrow.

After a tiring day campaigning criss-crossing Kuching from the relatively modern Batu Kawa shops and to the ill-equipped Kampung Tematu, a high-ranking DAP member sighed with face in his hands, saying: ”I hope these efforts with the Bidayuh work.”

It would be a shame for the DAP to lose. Even if it loses though, at least the act of reaching out itself is a brilliant beginning. It is not just a brilliant beginning for Kuching or Sarawak, and not just for the DAP itself. It is simply excellent for Malaysia.

Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved

First published in The Malaysian Insider on April 15 2011.