By Clara Chooi, The Malaysian-Insider, May 17, 2010
DAP leaders here believe the party’s success in Sibu yesterday had largely stemmed from an angry Christian electorate protesting the Barisan Nasional (BN) federal government’s handling of the Allah and Al-Kitab controversies.
The leaders claimed today that both sensitive issues had caused the sizeable Sibu Christian community, who make up 53 per cent of the electorate, to wake up from years of complacency under the leadership of BN’s SUPP.
“The Christians, many of them, were previously quite complacent under SUPP. Many of them were SUPP supporters and even members but this round, they emerged to be more united than ever before and it was because of these national issues. It was an awakening for them,” said DAP organising secretary Teresa Kok.
The Allah and Al-Kitab controversies were primary campaign issues during Sibu polls, which saw DAP’s Wong Ho Leng (picture) emerge as winner against the SUPP’s Robert Lau Hui Yew with a narrow majority of just 398 votes.
During the eight-day campaign period, the DAP continuously slammed the government’s move to destroy 5,000 copies of the Al-Kitab Malay Bible, claiming it was unconstitutional, and the move to ban the use of the word Allah by non-Muslims.
“The Christians of Sibu were greatly affected by that… after all, how can there be a ruling to say that Christians cannot use the word Allah? This really angered them. And what about the destruction of the Malay Bible?” she said.
Kok, who is Christian herself, said the Christian community was also now aware of the purported corruption in its state government and other national issues plaguing Peninsular Malaysia.
“They watch TV, they read the newspapers and now, they are starting to know what is going on.
“Unlike before when they were more anti-peninsula, they are now showing a keen interest in trying to know about us and what we do and what we can do for them,” she told The Malaysian Insider.
Kok said that Wong’s “bold” move of forming the Sarawak Pakatan Rakyat, and allowing PAS and PKR to campaign for him in the by-election, had also helped dispel fears previously felt against the PAS.
“There is a change in the attitude towards PAS…. did you know that previously even our own DAP members there feared PAS? But look at how PAS has handled the kalimah Allah issue — they have stated their stand and shown that there is nothing to fear,” she said.
She pointed out that when PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang made an appearance for the final ceramah before Sunday’s polls, the leader received tremendous applause.
“I was shocked, surprised and humbled to see this change. And mind you, Sibu voters are more conservative than the people of Kuching. Yet, they listened to him and they applauded him,” said Kok.
Another DAP leader, Datuk Ngeh Koo Ham, agreed with Kok that national issues had caused the Sibu electorate to reject SUPP and BN.
“It is not just about the Christian votes… the awakening came because of the many national issues. The Sarawakians were previously not so exposed to the national issues so things like corruption, the nation’s debt, justice and so on, they were not aware of.
“The by-election however opened their eyes to the various issues and scandals and they realised that they needed to change to prevent these practices,” he told The Malaysian Insider.
He pointed out that before 2008, the Christian community and churches of Sarawak were traditionally united in solidarity under the SUPP’s leadership.
“They have been pro-establishment all this time. But then until recently, too many issues came out and they felt that it was time to voice their concern.
On the Al-Kitab issue, Ngeh said the Christians had begun to realise that if the Malay Bible was termed as a threat to national security, then even the Christians themselves would soon be branded as such.
“They were never concerned about these things before because the community in East Malaysia are generally a cohesive lot but now these issues have reached them and they are shocked that these barriers are being drawn between the races by the government themselves,” he said.
Ngeh’s cousin, another staunch Christian, Taiping MP Nga Kor Ming, said the Christian community of Sibu had shown that they would no longer allow themselves to be cowed into submission by the BN government.
“It proves they have voiced out against the series of injustices against them. They are no longer silent and they have risen to the occasion,” he said.
A Christian leader from Sibu confirmed with The Malaysian Insider that the Christian community in the township had been significantly affected by the Allah and Al-Kitab issues.
“We never knew about these issues before but now that we do, we were finally shaken to our senses. We finally realise that if no one stands up to the government today, Malaysia will soon drown,” she said.
She claimed that the Christians of Sarawak, who make up 42 per cent of the state’s total electorate, would continue to vote with their “conscience” in the coming state elections.
“I think their reactions would be the same. Once the Christians have been awakened, they will continue to speak out and vote against corruption and immoral practices. Things have changed for the BN,” she said.