Opposition needs to compete with government in rural areas


PETALING JAYA: The Opposition needs to increase their presence in the rural areas if they want to see electoral gains, says Ong Boon Keong.

The activist and founder of NGO Lightup Borneo said the main reason rural communities have been supporting the ruling party is due to the Opposition’s relative lack of real presence in those areas.

“The rural folks have been supporting the ruling party which has led to them being taking for granted. They (the ruling party) don’t seem to feel that they need to fight for rural votes.

“This is because the Opposition does not put enough pressure on the government. They cannot, or do not want to challenge the government, especially when they don’t deliver on their promises,” Ong told FMT.

The Opposition, he argued, does not see that the electoral gain is worth the constant struggle to provide amenities such as electricity.

Ong pointed out that this was because the Malaysian “electoral game” is hotly contested in urban areas, despite the outcome being decided in the rural seats.

“The Opposition has made many inroads into urban areas. However, the outcome is decided in the rural seats. Unless there is competitive democracy in the rural areas, the Opposition will not see any gain.

Ong said the idea of “unthinking voters” resurfaces after every election, with people accusing the rural population of not “thinking”.
“But actually in a lot of small towns, more than half of the population are not even registered  voters. So it is not entirely true that most of them support the same politicians.
Ong said if the opposition did not have a presence in the rural areas, then why should the rural people give their support to them, especially when they only show up close to election.
“There is a lack of alternative candidates in the rural areas,” he said.

Ong, who in his work with Lightup Borneo aims to provide free electricity to rural areas, was commenting on the general underdevelopment of infrastructure in these areas.

“In the recent past, as 2012 in Sabah and 2010 in Sarawak, both state governments were given multi-billion ringgit grants to provide electricity, but till now, this has not happened.”

He added that strangely enough, the opposition parties have not gone beyond some occasional slogan, to put pressure on the government to implement such initiatives.