TS Liew political innsider who hails from Sarawak pens his thoughts.
To interested foreigners and outsiders, the post-March 8,2008 General Elections period till today has been characterised by continuing a political crisis and ensuing from a state of political instability and uncertainties in the country is bad for Malaysians and investors.
A common consensus is that the state of affairs must be brought to an end otherwise the consequences will be dreadful to consider and think of, as much for Malaysians as their neighbours in Singapore and other Asean member countries, including Indonesia and The Philippines.
It’s difficult even for the most sane to be level headed under the present circumstances. More than three months after the general elections, far from over the internal political problems besetting UMNO, the backbone of the national ruling coalition, are far from over.
If anything, the problems appear to getting worst. It would be wrong for anyone to say that Pakatan Rakyat (PR), the combined opposition that gained enormously from the general elections called nearly two years ahead of the end of its term then by Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, bolstered by its big number in Parliament, will not be trying to take a shot at toppling the BN at the Centre by inducing BN MPs to desert their side and join PR.
Now, apart from a perceptibly weakened PM, the apparent crachs in the unity of his own Cabinet and apparently confused Civil Service, the recent decision on the huge fuel hikes has invited the expected adverse public reaction and questions are being asked as to how long the Government could survive, even though it has, on paper, a comfortable working majority (it controls 140 out of the 222 seats in Parliament).
To be sure, the Pakatan Rakyat de facto leader and sacked former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, is brimming with confidence the combined opposition will have sufficient number on their side by September 16, Malaysia Day, to take over from the BN. Abdullah’s leadership has been criticised by his predecessor Dr Mahathir Mohammad, the Prime Minister for 23 years before he handed over the PM’s post to Abdullah three years ago, a move he now regrets,saying he over-estimated his capabilities (and loyalties).
The fall-out between the two began after Abdullah cancelled many of Mahathir’s pet projects, including the so-called crooked bridge in Johor and the RM14b double-tracking rail project between Johor right up to Padang Besar in the north of the peninsula.
Anwar, who Mahathir sacked and got his judges to jail for six years on what Anwar said were trumped-up charges of corruption and sodomy, looks likely to succeed in his plans for a come-back with style to the Government ,thanks to Dr Mahathir’s incessant calls on BN MPs,especially from UMNO, to get out of the party and remain as Independents in order to force Abdullah to step down as PM and UMNO president.
Abdullah is in a desperate situation, running to Sabah, which controls 24 MP seats, no less than three times since the general elections and promising greater financial assistance for the state government and BN elected representatives to contain albeit temporarily their threat of a possible defection.
The fact of the matter is that many of Sabah elected representatives have made little secret they have been less than happy, saying Abdullah’s promise has not been up to expectations.There is also a limit to what Abdullah can give, not when he is seen in such a weak or vulnerable position
He has also apparently under-estimated the feelings of growing discontentment among certain leaders of the state ruling coalition component parties (examples are SAPP, PBS and LDP) towards the state’s chief minister Musa Aman who is seen as merely interested in enriching himself and those around him.
Anwar has friends from the old days among the present leaders in Sabah and is clearly counting on some of them to cross over when the time comes.
When he made a trip to The Philippines recently, he made a stop-over in Kota Kinabalu, the state capital, and is said to have met secretly with some of them. Anwar said he had also met some of the BN leaders ready to defect at the right time outside the country, to avoid what he called being threatened and harrassed at home.
But sceptics are quick to add Anwar is only bluffing, clearly taking advantage of the confusion among UMNO and BN parties and calling on BN MPs to get off from their ‘sinking ship.’
Abdullah’s visit to Sarawak on Tuesday has attracted considerable interest. Will he be bringing similar ‘goodies’ for Sarawak BN? Rural-based BN elected representatives are clear on what they want: More money for rural development. The group that has felt most marginalised is the Dayak who make up nearly 50% of the state’s 2.4 million population.
The Iban, the largest ethnic Dayak community,. are generally unhappy, but their leaders who are members in Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud’s Cabinet, have been told to stay in line if they want to keep their jobs.
Taib is seen as so powerful he can ignore what the parties want. A recent clear case is his Chinese partner the Sarawak United People’s Party (Supp). The State Government appointed, for the second time, a non politician, a Chinese from the corporate sector, as mayor of the predominantly Chinese Kuching City South, ignoring Supp’s recommendations altogether.
Grass-root members have urged the party leadership to re-consider Supp’s position in the Government.
Some Dayak leaders have also started to assert their demands in a new found courage after the BN’s huge losses in Peninsular Malaysia.
When BN’s Bidayuh elected representatives wanted to raise issues of great concern to their community in the recent State Legislative Assembly, they were told by Deputy Chief Minister Alfred Jabu not to do it, for fear of offending Taib.
As a result, they decided not to speak at all, causing the top BN leaders to wonder why, until one of the Bidayuh State Assemblymen Frederick Bayo said it was not meant to offend the leaders but rather he was too sick to talk. Nonetheless, he was there throughout the session to listen to all the speeches by other elected representatvies.
Anti-government feelings on the ground are getting strong, and this fact is not lost on the existing elected representatives from the governing BN parties as they worry about what could happen in two or three years time when the state polls will take place.
And when PKR moved into the Bidayuh heartland recently to open two news divisions — Mas Gading and Mambong — the people came out in large numbers to welcome Anwar and his entourage.
This created concerns among the local BN leaders from PBB, SPDP and SUPP ,especially as they are being perceived by their supporters not to have lifted a finger to help the Bidayuh when their NCR lands are being given by the authorities to companies connected to some politically-powerful people. Land is one of the major issues among the Dayak community and their elected representatives to be seen to be doing nothing to allay their people’s fears on land matters.
The Bidayuh area (there are six state seats and three MP seats) is ready and ripe for the Opposition, as indicated by the groundswell of support for PKR and the readiness of more people,including civil servants, to be identified with the Opposition.
There may a test to the BN’s popularity soon as the health of two of their elected representatives is a big question mark.The outcome of by-elections could be different and see a swing in favour of the opposition in line with the changing mood in the country.
PKR’s influence is spreading into other Dayak leaders, and this is becoming a worry for the BN. BN’s Dayak leaders have started to speak out for their own people.
PRS president Dr James Masing, the Minister of Land Development, and his two party colleagues the Hulu
Rajang MP Billy Abit Jo and Kakus State Assemblyman John Sikie have started to talk more like the Opposition ,making demands to the Government for the needs of the rural communities.
Masing was originally elected to Balleh State Seat on a PBDS ticket but after the party
was de-registered he joined PRS but the new party itself has been embroiled in an internal leadership crisis.
Masing was said to be the architect of the Project Ketua Menteri Sarawak I and II as he then saw himself as the most qualified to take over as Chief Minister. Those who know him well say he has not given up on that ambition, and the fact that Anwar has promised that should Pakatan Rakyat should take over the State Government he would want a Dayak as Chief Minister again, after Stephen Kalong Ningkan and Penghulu Tawi Sli in the 1960s.
Masing has been unsually quiet these days and is rarely seen in public , and it has been said in certain quarters he is not a happy man in the BN.
With talk that Pakatan Rakyat is confident of getting the number that it wants to topple the BN at the Centre by September this year many people are asking ‘ What is cooking in Sarawak?’ Why is Sarawak less assertive and less vocal on demands, inspite of contributing 30 of the 140 MP seats and inspite of the fact it is known to be less than happy with the allocation of ministerial seats after the recent general elections?
So when the PM comes a-calling bearing gifts for Sarawak on Tuesday, will that help to retain the status quo for long in Sarawak?