The Politics of Perception in Sarawak

Posted on March 9, 2011


Sarawak Chief Minister Taib Mahmud recently highlighted the new phenomenon coming to Sarawak Politics that has been introduced and adopted by the Malaya-based opposition in the State – the Politics of Perception.

The state election this year will see the Politics of Reality pitted against the Politics of Perception.

Based on my research (I googled the topic 10 minutes ago), Politics of Perception has been known to mankind for quite a while now but hasn’t been used much in past elections in Sarawak.

My educated guess leads me to believe that the Chief Minister may be referring to the negative narrative that can be found online, with the perfect example being the narrative of the opposition blog Sarawak Report.

There are many examples of how the Malaya-based opposition parties in Sarawak have used the Politics of Perception, and I actually thank them for giving me so much to rant and rave about in this humble blog.

But due to the fact that I’m blogging during office hours, I can only pick one issue for now and that’s the issue of poverty in Sarawak.

The reality is that when Sarawak gained independence by forming Malaysia with Malaya, Sabah and (briefly) with Singapore in 1963, we were the poorest state in the Federation.

Sure, we had timber but we can’t chop down all the trees to develop the State. We don’t want to destroy our rainforest, as has happened in other countries in the past.

We also have oil and gas but we sacrifice a lot of that income to help our country develop as a whole. We do get a royalty from these resources, but it’s not nearly enough to achieve the kind of progress that the State is aspiring for us.

So it’s safe to say that in 1963, most of us in Sarawak were poor. The reality is Sarawak wants to transform itself from being the POOREST state into the RICHEST state in Malaysia.

Not something easy, but if you’ve seen the plans that our State has in SCORE, it could be a reality within the next 10 to 20 years.

And let’s not forget that the Sarawak state economy has a credit rating that is as good as PETRONAS.

I don’t mean a PETRONAS petrol station…I mean PETRONAS the corporation!

I can’t explain in detail what that means, but I think it simply means that when Sarawak wants to borrow money for developing the State, there will be no shortage of lenders from the biggest banks and other financial institutions from all over the world.

If we want to “minta tolong” (get help)…we don’t have to look for “Ah Long” (IMF).

It’s not good financial practice to borrow money all the time, so the State has not done it often. The fact is, if it wanted to borrow money, the money is there to be borrowed.

And no one should think for a minute that this can be done by any other state in Malaysia. Having a credit rating as good as PETRONAS is a big deal!

However, the Politics of Perception wants us to believe that we were actually the RICHEST state in Malaysia at one time, and now we are the POOREST!…WTF!

According to the Politics of Perception, the current group of politicians squandered all the advantages and resources that we had and the only way to counter it is to CHANGE this group of politician with a new group of politicians. THEIR POLITICIANS! What a surprise!

The Sarawak opposition’s use of Politics of Perception also relies on drawing our attention to the poorest of the poor in the State.

The reality is, the poorest of the poor, as a group, is much smaller now compared to when we first started out as a nation. But to say that more and more people are getting poorer and poorer in Sarawak, is just not true.

No state can sustain the perceived reality that the opposition blogs are painting at the moment. It is just not realistic. If their perception is true, we’d be headlining Al-Jazeera right now.

Sarawak is more likely to wage a larger war against obesity in the coming years, than a war against poverty.

That’s the price we have to pay for progress and prosperity, I guess.

Unfortunately, the Politics of Perception looks like it’s here to stay and that means all politicians will learn to master it in the coming years.

For us voters, we will have no choice but to learn, as well.

Our curriculum will be much harder compared to that of the politicians’ though, because we will be required to separate reality from perception.

If we fail, what happens next is inevitable; PERCEPTION BECOMES REALITY.

God help us all.