Elections and ‘X’ attempts by elders

Tawie

In 1969, it was interesting to note that elders in my Kedap longhouse in Saratok were busy preparing for the general election, slated to be held that year.

On May 10, Malaysians across the South China Sea cast their votes to elect the third Parliament but voting was postponed until between June 6 and July 4, 1970 in Sabah and Sarawak — this poll marked the first parliamentary election held in the two East Malaysian states after the formation of Malaysia in 1963.

This election also saw the Alliance lose its majority in Perak, Selangor and Penang in addition to Kelantan. The results of the election and subsequent reactions would cause widespread race riots known as the May 13 incident.

Aged 15 then, I noticed that there seemed to be a halted momentum of my parents and grandma, scribbling ‘X’ — in big number — on our walls using burnt end of sticks (a charcoal equivalent).

This was part of their preparation to vote as learning to ‘write’ X was an extra mile of education for illiterates. Hopefully, they didn’t contribute to the rejected votes.

About a few days after Gawai Dayak that year, I heard about the postponement of voting from a schoolmate but we were both blurred on the riots in Malaya. Only years later, especially after having lessons on Rukun Negara formation, that we came to know about the riots in May that year.

For the record, Sarawak is the only region in Malaysia to hold state polls separate from the general election, though this has not always been the case. In 1970 and 1974, Sarawak held elections for the state and parliamentary constituencies simultaneously.

That changed in the 1978 general election. While joining in the contests for parliamentary seats, Sarawak opted to hold the state election a year later.

The reason for this was that a group, led by Repok assemblyman Chong Siew Chiang, had left SUPP — a member of the ruling coalition — to form the Sarawak DAP.

Then Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abdul Rahman Yakub was afraid that many Chinese might vote for DAP because of SUPP-related internal problems in Barisan Nasional, and wanted time to “stabilise” the situation.

As it turned out, DAP did not win a single constituency in the third Sarawak state election in 1979. Nor did the party secure any seat in the 1983, 1987 and 1991 state polls. DAP only started winning seats — three — in 1996.

For the Krian seat in 1974, there were three candidates — all were originally from the same long Munggu Embawang in Melupa, Saratok, my dad’s birthplace. Incumbent Datuk (later Datuk Amar) Endawie Enchana stood from SNAP while Jelemin Telajan was SUPP candidate and Alban Meling Jan represented Pesaka.

I was told during one campaign night the three of them — close relatives — were seated next to each other at the gallery of Tuai Rumah Tamin. Meling is my second cousin while Endawi, who won easily, was a third cousin and Jelemin a distant cousin.

Then, I was studying Upper Six in Sibu and found out that its election scene was quite thought-provoking. Reliable sources said that SNAP candidate lawyer Joseph Tang had to go around at night to catch culprits bent on tearing his election posters.

In Bawang Assan area, the contest between Wong Tong Kwang (of the WTK fame) and Ling Beng Siong gave immediate cash windfalls to voters as both sides reportedly offered handsome amounts to qualified voters.

As such, my eldest brother Edward’s family (he was married to a Bawang Assan beauty) enjoyed extra bonuses during the campaigning period, namely receiving from both candidates.

Ling was voted as their rep. During my CNY visits to both Ling and Wong (at Ramin Way just next to my alma mater Methodist Sibu), I was given a 10-ringgit angpow, personally handed over by them respectively — Ling contacted me via his personal assistant when I was with Rascom in May 1975 to design a Gawai Dayak card for him. It was a handy bonus for me as I was leaving in June for further studies.

Then SNAP was in the opposition after winning 18 state seats in 1974.

On Aug 25, 1975 while strumming my new RM32-Kapok guitar in my room at USM’s Desa A Longhouse Block 312, I received two unexpected visitors — SNAP chief Endawie and its secretary general Leo Moggie Irok (later Tan Sri Datuk Amar).

They were in Penang for a meeting. Earlier in June, Endawie was told by my dad about me entering university.

Fast forward to the present, there is no more of such ‘wall scribbling’ as the younger generations of voters are able to write, leaving our modern community dwelling’s walls free of charcoal marks.