Bahasa Sarawak for "Ulu Bengoh Under Water"
Bahasa Sarawak for "Ulu Bengoh Under Water"

Why the Un-Swung Votes, Ulu Bengoh Darom Piin?

Read on as Weng Yow Lee, a member of the film crew of Ulu Bengoh Darom Piin dissects the so-called urban-rural divide as our film delves into this subject matter- namely the rural folk of Bengoh and why they did not vote in objection against the Bengoh Dam which would forcibly displace them from their homes.

Our film’s title is Bahasa Sarawak for “Ulu Bengoh Under Water” and will be screened at PusatRakyatLB this Saturday, 8th October along with Chou Z Lam’s Part 1 on the Bakun Dam.

Ulu Bengoh Darom Pinn Premiered at FFF2011(#FFF20111) last Sunday,2nd October 2011 and will continue screening around Malaysia as part of the “Election and Democracy Theme”. Find out more here.

Meeting any Malaysian in passing who is knowledgeable enough about the political and economical developments in Malaysia and he/she will always start his or her conversation with “Oh, I read in Malaysiakini about….” or “Oh, did you read RPK’s column yesterday in Malaysia-Today about…..” etc. Perhaps this is the problem in itself. Google “Malaysian news” and you would most likely get searches of the most read Malaysian news portal, namely The Star, Malaysia-Today, Malaysian insider, and Malaysiakini.

Perhaps, this is why the term “rural-urban divide” is appropriate at the beginning to explain the reasons for the outcome of the 10th Sarawak State elections that was held on 16th April 2011.The rural-urban divide could be an intellectual mumbo-jumbo. It could be a red herring. It could be, as I had said a mythology. But then again, it could also be that the rural-urban divide exists as a mental and physical barrier with a host of reasons as to why such a barrier does exist.

Why I say this is because a lot of us in West Malaysia whether it be in Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Ipoh, Melaka or even in East Malaysia such as Kuching, Miri and Sibu watched in horror as the results of the 10th Sarawak State Elections unfolded that night. The reaction that I had as many people did begin with a sudden “Whoa, what the hell happened??”, a venting of frustration, sadness and finally anger at the rural folks who still voted in a state government that was abusing its power and usurping their land and native customary rights. And of course, another point to note, most of us again accessed the online news portal such as The Star, Malaysiakini, Malaysian Insider and Malaysia-Today for elections coverage that night.

These illustrations serve to point out that many of us in the urban areas whether be it in West or East Malaysia have the liberty and privilege to a vast wealth of information on the online news portals and blogs that can counter information and point of views of the mainstream media which many contend are bias in favour of the ruling establishment BN.

Hence, in the run up to the 10th Sarawak State elections, many urbanites who relied wholly on online media for their elections coverage were confidently predicting that the opposition front Pakatan Rakyat were poised to do well.

Many predictions ranged from a conservative estimate of breaking the two thirds majority to the boldest prediction of winning an outright majority to form the next state government. Some were even telling stories about civil servants sitting in their offices preparing to shred all incriminating documents upon receipt of instructions from their political masters. Such predictions were based on the confluence of hot bed election issues such as the spate of land and customary rights issues, the Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud’s long 30 years rule and the scandals and corruption that had dodged his administration. As it turned out, all these predictions turned out to be well unfortunately, just predictions on the night of the election results as Pakatan Rakyat failed miserably to meet even minimal expectations of breaking the two thirds majority held by BN.

As someone who volunteered as an election watchdog (Malaysian Election Observers Network aka MEOnet) for the whole 10 day campaigning period during the 10th Sarawak State elections, like many others, I was baffled by the outcome of the elections and the troubling voting patterns which indicated that the urban electorates in the towns and cities of Sarawak had overwhelmingly voted in favour of Pakatan Rakyat but that Pakatan Rakyat failed with the exception of the 3 seats to make a major impact in these rural constituencies, even when difficult issues such land and native customary rights had the incumbent BN state government labeling these seats during the state elections as ‘black seats’ or ‘hot seats’.

Bengoh Dam - That Damned Dam!

One such seat was the N16 constituency of Bengoh where the BN incumbent Dr Jerip Anak Susip who defended this seat in 2006 with a 3,988 majority, was reported to be facing a strong challenge from his opponents, Willie Anak Mongin of PKR, Richard @ Peter A/L Margaret of SNAP and an independent candidate named Wejok Anak Tomik as a result of the construction of a dam built in that constituency which was facing resistance and opposition from villagers within its vicinity.

Among the issues were the dissatisfaction of the people within 4 villages about their native customary rights over these lands and the issue of adequate compensation. These 4 villages which are situated on a mountainous area overlooking the dam was to be relocated elsewhere as these villages were within the proposed flooding areas of the Bengoh Dam.

Yet, shockingly, despite widespread unhappiness with the incumbent, the election result on that night showed the BN incumbent Dr Jerip Anak Susip being reelected with barely a dent in his majority. In fact, the reduction in his 2006 winning margin in 2011 was less than 300 votes in total.

Joachim tries to mind-read the villagers as he catches his breath with them at a rest-stop


The documentary Ulu Bengoh Darom Piin is a case study of a rural constituency in Sarawak that strives to answer the reasons as to the incomprehensibility of the election results. It tells a tale of difficult terrains, beautiful surroundings, peaceful villages, missing candidates, broken promises, unfulfilled promises and most importantly, a feudalistic culture of patronage and subservient between the state government and the people. The documentary weaves a tale that elucidates a feeling of frustration and helplessness with the current state of things but a lack of will to initiate changes at the ballot box.

This brings into sharp focus the theme which I had mentioned above in that the urban-rural divide debatable on an intellectual level as to its viability nevertheless seem very real when seen on the ground level with a lack of information, the difficulties of accessibility to these villagers, and the day to day concerns of people in these villages rather than national issues that predominates their minds even during an election period.

We hope that this documentary will enlighten many of us in West and also in East of Malaysia who still hold out hope for the winds of change and also to enable us realize that much work still needs to be done for these winds to sweep waves of change across the rural electorate which constitute close to two thirds of the total number of electorate seats in Malaysia.

So, come join us at 8pm sharp as we screen our movie and have a chat with our Film Crew as we discuss what can be done to bridge that rural-urban divide. Details are as follows:

Saturday – 8th October at Pusat Rakyat LB, Bangsar Utama – Those Damned Dams!

A Screening of Sarawakian Dam-related short films.


7.45-8.00 – Arrival, Chat with Sarawakian Activists

8.00-8.30 – Screening of Ulu Bengoh Darom Piin

8.30-8.50 – Discussion on Film and Chat with Crew

8.50-9.30 – Screening of  Bakun Dam Documentary by Chou Z Lam Pt.1

9.30- 10.00 – Discussion on Film and Chat with Affected Villagers in Baram.

Map to Pusat Rakyat  here.

Lastly , keep the conversation going on twitter #Bengoh Let’s make it synonymous with the urban-rural divide debate in Malaysia.

I wear the hat of a working man sensibilities on weekdays and an eager eye activist on weekends. I am not sure whether activism complements politics or vice-versa. Still searching for that answer.

4 replies on “Those Damned Dams!”


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  2. Hi guys,

    Thanks for the kind comments. First off tho' I can't claim credit for the article above as it was written by WY Lee, a close friend and film crew member – he took most of the photo shots you will see in the movie. We are in the process of transitioning over this post to the rightful writer!

    Maybl8r99, indeed, more volunteers to the cause will be great. Voter registrations in rural Sarawak at the lowest in Malaysia before we even begin talking about voter education!

    ElegantEffendi – We will put it up online eventually. However, we're trying to raise funds for a mini hydro electric project for the villagers so we are selling the DVDs to generate income in the time being. DVDs are available via enquiry – email us [email protected]

  3. What the hell happened, indeed. The urban votes played out as expected but the rural votes came out NOT as expected. Even after all the rape and pillage they have endured. On the ground, the urban voters feel let down and betrayed by the very people they were hoping to save. Money politics and the lack of awareness of their rights. There is no other way to put it, they let themselves down. There is also a perception of trust. They may not trust BN but the fear of the unknown seems even worst than the fear of hell with BN. Filled with a cacophony of faction parties, it is clear that trust rarely fall outside of tribal boundaries. Raising awareness is an uphill battle and we need volunteers.

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