In Sandakan, signs that Umno’s race card will be rejected by east Malaysians

The Election Commission declaring DAP’s Vivian Wong as winner of the Sandakan by-election May 11, 2019. — Bernama pic
The Election Commission declaring DAP’s Vivian Wong as winner of the Sandakan by-election May 11, 2019. — Bernama pic

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KUALA LUMPUR, May 13 — DAP’s landslide win in Sandakan is a clear indication that voters reject racial and religious politics championed by the two biggest Malay-Muslim opposition parties, Umno and PAS.

Political analysts told Malay Mail that while Umno and PAS's focus on championing Malay-Muslim rights has worked in the Rantau, Semenyih and Cameron Highlands by-elections, it hardly made a dent in the Sandakan polls.

DAP’s Vivian Wong won with a majority of 11,521 votes compared to her closest rival Datuk Linda Tsen from Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) who took 4,491 votes.

The outcome of the voting is said to be a clear sign that former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s description of East Malaysia as “fixed deposit” votes for Barisan Nasional (BN) may no longer exist.

According to political analysts, the low voter turnout of 54.22 per cent out of the 39,684 voters showed that people in Sandakan weren’t worried about losing their seat to the Opposition.

Universiti Sains Malaysia political science professor Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid said, “The margin of victory shows the rejection of racial and religious politics which Umno and PAS are using in Peninsular Malaysia.

“Najib and Umno were proud to have Sabah and Sarawak as their 'fixed deposits' but now they are in danger of losing that permanently if they continue their toxic politicking. It won’t work in Sabah and Sarawak.” 

Fauzi also questioned PAS's motive after the Islamist party declared its support for the PBS candidate.

He said PAS is now playing politics based on situations rather than what they actually stand for.

“When you use Islam as the basis for your party but behave like any other political party, then what separates you from them?” Fauzi asked.

“PAS endorsing PBS was not the best idea as PBS is known to be a pro-Christian group. It contradicts with their core values which is to put Islam at the fore front.

“It seems as though PAS politics are that of expediency and their record among Muslims in Sabah is not good,” added Fauzi.

He claimed that Najib's visit worsened prospects for BN because he has unfulfilled promises owed to Sandakan people, namely an RM80 million airport and a PR1MA housing project which did not take off.

“Isn't this obvious hypocrisy when BN keeps on harping about Pakatan Harapan's failure to fulfill promises, when they (BN) had also done the same before?”

Fauzi said DAP’s win in Sandakan shows that people are rejecting BN, as voters feel that there are other parties that can represent them better.

He added that the decision to field a former Batu Sapi MP as the PBS candidate was another wrong move.

“Batu Sapi is adjacent to Sandakan and its portfolio is now held by Minister in the Prime Ministers department Liew Vui Keong. In the eyes of Sandakan residents, Batu Sapi has not developed under PBS. For voters, it has turned into a derelict town,” said Fauzi.

Meanwhile Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) Geostrategist Professor Dr Azmi Hassan said voters had rejected Umno long before the Sandakan by-election and that sentiment hasn’t changed.

“Umno was rejected six or seven months ago. Sandakan voters don’t see Bersatu as a threat that’s why I feel Vivian won by a landslide.”

Azmi said Najib’s presence in Sandakan clearly shows that his gimmicks failed to work with people of Sabah.

“The ‘Bossku’ phenomena is meagre and insignificant in East Malaysia as it was never entrenched in its culture as much as in Peninsular Malaysia,” Azmi told Malay Mail.

“I feel the message the voters sent was that they have more confidence and trust towards the current government and aren’t too bothered with the Opposition.”

According to the electoral rolls, 51 per cent of the voters in Sandakan are Chinese, 45 per cent are Muslim Bumiputera and the rest are of other races.

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