PR, BN caught in uncertain Sabah, Sarawak politics

Posted on February 3, 2011

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By Joe Fernandez

Kita president Zaid Ibrahim’s take, publicly and privately, in the wake of the official launching of his party on January 19 further confirms what is being seen as indicating some serious confusion of sorts within the inner circle of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR). Patently, this follows on-going political developments in Sabah and Sarawak.

What has long been suspected is now an open secret. The opposition alliance may be hard-pressed to pursue the agenda for change and reform, long pledged by de facto PKR chief Anwar Ibrahim. If not, the thinking goes, Kita would not have come forward to “pursue the agenda for change and reform”.

Still, Pakatan Rakyat (PR), the opposition alliance, is expected to swear by the slogan of reformasi (reformation) in the run-up to the next General Election and beyond. Without the change and reform agenda to “woo” the masses, especially in Peninsular Malaysia, it would be an uphill, if not losing, battle for PR all the way.

Anwar’s credentials as a reformist have also come under public scrutiny, closer than ever, with the sudden emergence of the Third Force, nameless and faceless, in Sabah and Sarawak. The Third Force is all for a Borneo-based national coalition to remain equidistant between the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) and PR, the latter two both peninsula-based. While the Third Force sounds like sweet music to BN, more because it appears to take down the opposition alliance more than a peg or two, the idea has reportedly been enough to frighten PR out of their “conspiratorial” – for want of a better term — wits.

Obviously, the Third Force is the kind of language that Anwar in particular doesn’t like to hear. He had long pledged support for the idea of autonomy for Sabah and Sarawak, as per the 1963 Malaysia Agreement. But his deeds, in the way that he micro-managed the affairs of the Sabah and Sarawak chapters of PKR on the ground, proved his undoing. Sabah strongman Jeffrey Kitingan left PKR in recent weeks. He claims that he has “finally seen through Anwar’s bluff” in Malaysian Borneo. Jeffrey had even been advised by senior PKR leaders, across both sides of the South China Sea, not to allow Anwar to hold his politics to ransom. But to no avail.

Now, the Sarawak National Party (Snap) which has been cozying up to Jeffrey in recent weeks, has put PR on public notice that it will contest all 29 Dayak state seats in the forthcoming state election. Also telling is the fact that former Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak (PBDS) president Daniel Tajem Anak Miri has officially become Snap Advisor. Snap is a member of PR. He was previously Sarawak PKR Advisor.

Snap’s “unilateral” decision on the 29 Dayak state seats reportedly followed the “gradual realization” that both Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB) and elements of Sabah BN are willing to play ball with Anwar. The de facto PKR chief, highly reliable sources swear, is now caught between the devil and the deep blue sea since both Sabah BN and PBB apparently want his “help” to stay in the saddle.

In return, the purported “deal” may be that should PR win a simple majority in Peninsular Malaysia, both Sabah BN legislators and PBB would abandon the BN and support Anwar to seize the reins of control in Putrajaya.

Both Sarawak Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud and his maternal uncle and predecessor Abdul Rahman Yakub, who have PBB and Sarawak in a vice-like grip, have privately and publicly made it clear that they are not at all interested in the politics of Peninsular Malaysia. Just as they have been the local proxies to Umno for over four decades, they are willing to offer the same services to PR in return for being allowed to stay in power.

In Sabah, Anwar is confident that his “boys” in Sabah BN still remain secretly loyal to him. He has no wish either to see them cast to the political wilderness as long as they come around to him when needed. Again, the tipping point will come when PR gains a simple majority in Peninsular Malaysia. All this has the shades of Sept 16, 2008 which Anwar had trumpeted for months as the day that PR would seize, on the back of crossovers, the reins of power in Putrajaya. Anwar is a crossover specialist of sorts considering the manner in which the Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) state government fell in early 1994 hardly a month after a wafer-thin majority for an unprecedented fourth term in office.

The suspected sudden warming of ties between Anwar, on the one hand, and both Sabah BN legislators and PBB on the other hand, could not have come at a better or worse time depending on who is talking.

The de facto PKR chief stands accused of doing everything possible to antagonize and marginalize the Dusuns – the Kadazans (urban Dusuns) and Muruts included — who form eight per cent of the PKR membership. The accusation is that he has “gone back on his word” as per the Sabah peace plan of late 2009 to allow the local chapters in Sabah and Sarawak to elect their own state chiefs. Instead, in a bizarre breach of protocol last month, and again, he has appointed an unknown vice chief in Tuaran Division as the new Sabah state chief. The great majority of the 26 division chiefs in Sabah and Labuan are furious and there’s no telling how they will react in the days ahead to this calculated insult. Already, 18 division chiefs have told PKR vice-president Fuziah Salleh that they want party president Wan Azizah Wan Ismail to take over as state chief until the General Elections.

In hindsight, Anwar is expected to come under some suspicion that he had never been serious all along about allowing PKR in Sabah and Sarawak to take on PBB and Sabah BN.

Indeed, the Dusuns and Dayaks being at the bottom of the political dung heap as per the politics of PBB and Sabah BN “will not upset the ketuanan Melayu – Malay dominance and supremacy — political applecart Putrajaya”.

Already, there may be moves to “oust” Alfred Jabu, tipped to be interim Chief Minister after Taib. It’s in this light that the departure of Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) deputy information chief Tedewin Ngumbang Datu, from his “comfort zone”, is being read. Tedewin is being tipped to take on Jabu in his Layar state seat and perhaps even the Betong parliamentary constituency. PBB’s hand is being seen in these expected moves.

Anwar, meanwhile, is evidently still interested in wooing significant portions of the Umno membership through his PKR. For this, he has to rethink his already tottering political alliance with the Dusuns and Dayaks in Sabah and Sarawak, stay silent – as during Batu Sapi — on the illegal immigrants on the Sabah electoral rolls, allow Dap to hold on to Penang in the manner of the Lee Dynasty in Singapore, and allow Pas to trumpet its “Islamic state” at least in Kelantan, Terengganu and Kedah.

What will become of the “rump” BN and Umno under this emerging Anwar game plan is anybody’s guess. Some will describe Anwar as the politics of reality while others, “not so gullible”, will swear that he’s being delusional to the point of harbouring notions of grandeur. The jury is still out on the question. It’s difficult to say that the truth is somewhere in between but probably more towards Anwar being in a permanent state of delusion.

Jeffrey’s Kitingan’s United Borneo Front (UniBorF), along with Snap, has in any case no plans to allow Anwar to do as he likes in Sabah and Sarawak. Between them, they are determined to give him a run for his money. Jeffrey’s betting is that “PKR will implode in Sabah and Sarawak long before the Sarawak state elections” which are expected to be held by July at the very latest. Already, there’s considerable unease in Sarawak PKR that former PBDS deputy president Sng Chee Hwa is taking too much interest in the affairs of the party and has the ready ear of Anwar on its affairs. The elder Sng is also a known crony of Taib along with construction magnate Ting Pek Khiing whose son married the former’s (Sng’s) son, Larry Sng, a partyless assistant minister.

Jeffrey also wants to make nonsense of the BN theory that Sabah and Sarawak are their electoral fixed deposit states.

UniBorF is expected to have a political wing in place in time for the next General Election, if not the Sarawak state election. UniBorF’s Borneo Agenda goes beyond the agenda for change and reform now being flogged by Kita. UniBorF is all about Sabah and Sarawak rights as pledged under the 1963 Malaysia Agreement.

UniBorF has powerful Third Force allies in Hindraf Makkal Sakthi, the Orang Asli, the Christians in Peninsular Malaysia and those who are neither for BN or PR in Peninsular Malaysia. The last include Zaid Ibrahim’s Kita which will secure a strong foothold in Peninsular Malaysia through the agenda for change and reform. Hindraf will have to choose again between Zaid and Jeffrey to field their candidates in 15 parliamentary seats and 38 state seats in Peninsular Malaysia. Earlier, they had pledged to stand under Jeffrey’s banner.

Zaid has plans to help forge a Barisan Kita, a coalition of the Third Force, but such an undertaking will only succeed if it’s not Peninsular Malaysian-led. BN and PR, it must be remembered, are both Peninsular Malaysian-led. Malaysian Borneo needs to have its own national coalition to challenge the BN and PR for political supremacy and dominance in the national theatre. This is an idea whose time has come.

Posted in: Right to know