Tuai rumah the main obstacle to opposition campaigns

ELECTION TALK: Sarawak DAP will be fielding more Dayak professionals as candidates in the coming state election as it is encouraged by the sizeable support from the Dayak community in the last parliamentary election as well as the good response to its “Impian Sarawak” programmes,

It has identified at least 15 rural constituencies.

Given a level playing field, some of these candidates will have an impact in the rural areas.

Sadly, the greatest obstacle is the tuai rumah (longhouse chiefs) who Sarawak PKR chief Baru Bian said should remain apolitical, especially during election times.

True, they should be custodians of our adat and customs, and they should keep in mind that they are paid to be the “bridge” between the community and the government and the opposition.

Instead, the tuai rumah have been used by the BN parties as the most effective “political tool” to stop opposition politicians from entering their longhouses to explain to the longhouse residents of their democratic rights to choose their leaders.

“My biggest problem as a candidate is to enter these longhouses. If we can enter these longhouses we can explain our policies to the residents.

“But the tuai rumah is the biggest obstacle. They must have undergone courses of political indoctrination organised every time there is a general election by the BN,” said Baba Emperan, who has been nominated by DAP to contest the newly created seat of Samalaju.

In an interview with The Ant Daily, Baba said: “I am not allowed by the tuai rumah to enter some of these longhouses.

“In one particular incident at a longhouse, I was verbally abused by the tuai rumah when he said that a person like me is ‘paloi’ (stupid) to join DAP and to contest as its candidate.

“I took his abusive remark calmly and explained to him and his followers why so many Dayak professionals are joining DAP.

“I told him that I cannot be stupid as I am a graduate in mechanical engineering and have my own oil and gas company.

“I have a number of houses in Bintulu and own a number of cars. My own longhouse has electricity, water, road and ‘bilik’ (rooms) which are air-conditioned,” he said.

“Personally, I live a comfortable life”.

He told the tuai rumah that he sympathised with them over the poor living conditions and how they have not benefitted from the BN government in the last 50 years.

The longhouse does not have electricity, clean water and a road.

Yet he and his followers continued to support BN.

Baba is not only the opposition candidate who has been abused when carrying out political activities in longhouses.

At a recent incident at Nanga Ajoi longhouse in Marudi, a PKR member was physically and verbally assaulted by the tuai rumah.

“Traditionally, the people of a native community would welcome anyone who comes in peace. So it is indeed a sad thing when a headman slaps a person who has come on a friendly visit,” said Baru when commenting on the case.

This Nanga Ajoi headman clearly showed political bias when he refused entry to Elia Bit’s assistants and assaulted one of them, said the Ba’Kelalan assemblyman.

Elia Bit is PKR’s candidate for Marudi.

The two incidents are only the tip of the iceberg.

If only there is a level playing field, it will not be a surprise for the opposition to win some of the seats in the rural areas, one of which, I believe, is the newly created Samalaju seat.

The seat is curved out of DAP-held Kidurong (now known as Tanjong Batu) and Kemena, where the incumbent is PBB secretary general Dr Stephen Rundi.

Three quarters of the more than 12,000 voters are from Kidurong who are known to be supportive of DAP. The Ibans constitute 67 percent of the voters, while the rest are Malays and Chinese.

DAP’s main issues in this constituency include the people’s deplorable living conditions and the lack of development.

Baba said that there are more than 70 longhouses, the majority of which are without electricity, clean water supply and roads.

Some of these longhouses remain as they were 50 years ago.

It is obvious that these longhouses have been “suppressed and oppressed” due to their strong link with the opposition.

But nearby villages which are pro-BN are given minor rural projects like electricity, water and tar-sealed roads.

Baba also pointed out that there are also longhouses which are strong supporters of BN and yet they too have been neglected in terms of basic amenities, and their NCR land taken away by oil palm companies.

Despite the ban by the tuai rumah to enter their longhouses, Baba and his team will continue to visit every longhouse in the constituency no matter what.

“I consider it is my mission to explain to these people that they have the right to development,” he said, adding: “I have to do it as other opposition leaders dare not visit these pro-BN longhouses,” he said, describing himself as an activist fighting for the rights of native landowners whose lands have been taken away against their will.

Together with residents of three longhouses, he is suing a company for allegedly taking away their land.

The case is pending.

On his chances of winning, Baba said he is fighting the whole of BN’s political juggernaut – state government resources, including unlimited funds and the civil service.

He is not sure who the BN candidate will be as Sarawak Progressive Democratic Party and Parti Rakyat Sarawak are both claiming the seat,

“Whoever he is I am ready for him,” said Baba.-THE ANT DAILY

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