Thanks to a good friend, I was invited to join him on his trip to his wife's aunt home in Sibu. He is keen political observer, so am I.
Before my trip there, I was told that it was or still is the wealthiest town in Sarawak. It was partially true. There were many big bungalows. The presence of a number of big companies was quite evident e.g. Rimbunan Hijau, CMS, KTS, CCK etc.
However, apart from the privately built huge bungalows, infrastructure in the town of Sibu is agonizing and poor. Locals there told us that we should not be surprised seeing many Toyota Hilux and the likes on the streets.
Local kancils, myvis and protons would not survive the potholes and poor road condition in the city. The main road taking us to the airport was not even lighted up at night.
A number of indegineous people were seen living among these bungalows, alas in their shabby wooden shacks. Most parts of the interior are still without clean water and electricity. My friend's uncle told us that he is making a brisk business selling generator sets. His business has picked up since the election campaign started because most the ceremah venues would need his petrol/diesel powered generator sets.
On the way back to his house, our host showed us Taib Mahmud's holiday home in Sibu. It was said to be given to him for free by the developer. Not too bad being a CM of one of the resource rich but poorest states in Malaysia. It surely comes with a lot of free perks.
Outside his holiday home, parked several luxury cars including Benz, Bently and a SUV - all black in colour. It was built on a 10 acre land.
Issues such as ketuanan Melayu, Perkasa and sex video do not have any impact here. Taib Mahmud and corruption are two of the most contentious issues in Sibu. An anonymous voter told us that Malaysia & Sarawak must be saved from corruption or we will perish together.
Barisan must have surely paid a huge gamble to allow Taib Mahmud to spearhead the elections until yesterday when PM Najib announced that he will be spending six days campaigning in Sarawak. It is left to be seen if PM Najib presence will have a huge impact in Sarawak. It might work for the rural voters who are traditionally too weak and helpless to vote for others except for the 'dacing'.
However, it is crucial for Barisan to recognize that the Sarawak election this time is also about generational change and transition. It is left to be seen if big corporations, elite politicians and rich families can continue to dominate the politics of Sarawak.
The younger generations are becoming more rebellious. Sarawak is facing accute brain drain too. More than 200k young Sarawakians are working abroad mainly in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. A company boss complained that it is so difficult to hire a technician here.
Political change takes years or even decades. But it is safe to say that Barisan should ignore these signals and signs at its own peril. The change of the Sarawak political landscape is already happening.
Pakatan leaders do not come talking hot air. Their leaders such as Lim Guan Eng, Nik Aziz and Khalid Ibrahim are Chief Ministers in their own rights. They have been sharing their KPIs too with the locals.
A few young Chinese campaign workers I met told me that they had already booked their tickets to visit Penang. They must have obviously read about Penang's recent hall of fame - listed by Yahoo! as the top 10 places you must visit at least in a lifetime.
I was in Sibu for only two days. What it takes conservative Foochows and Sibu people to come out in drove for the opposition ceramahs and stayed back way after their sleeping hours should translate into a cause for concern for Barisan.
Barisan/SUPP campaign is obviously lacking in spirit and creativity. They are trying to play up the PAS Islamic state threat. If it does not work even in Peninsula Malaysia, they should save their energy and focus on how SUPP can put the pressure on PBB and Taib Mahmud to return Sarawak to its past glory and return the land and wealth to the people.
It is hilarious to see SUPP candidates putting up posters bearing their younger looking pictures (probably taken 20 years ago) just to narrow the age gap compared to DAP younger looking and obviously younger candidates.
My hunch tells me that it might be difficult for SUPP to keep a clean slate in Sibu. Money is not everything. Some very rich tycoons in Barisan should learn how to appreciate talents and credible people. The failure to attract good people into their party is going to magnify the aging factor.
But some of these mega rich tycoons, I met some in Peninsula too, are simply too detached from the political reality on the ground.
Good luck to both Barisan and Pakatan!