Analysis: Party loyalty counts for little in Sarawak

Mawan (seated centre) announces that he is joining Teras during a press conference, May 15, 2014. With him are SPDP and SUPP members who have joined Teras. — Malay Mail pic
Mawan (seated centre) announces that he is joining Teras during a press conference, May 15, 2014. With him are SPDP and SUPP members who have joined Teras. — Malay Mail pic

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KUALA LUMPUR, May 23 — In Sarawak politics, party loyalty matters little.

This appears to be obvious with leaders of the Dayak-majority parties in Barisan Nasional (BN).

Nothing seems more important to them than being a leader in BN and their party is just a vehicle to achieve that. 

The recent defection of 10 elected representatives from their BN parties to join the newly registered Parti Tenaga Rakyat Sarawak (Teras) is indeed something you will come to expect if you are from Sarawak.

It has become a trend for leaders to ditch their parties when things don’t go their way. And it now seems to have spread to the sole Chinese-majority party in the state, Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP), whose YBs are among those who jumped to Teras about a week ago.

The trend is said to have started some three decades ago although it really picked up in the last 10 years. The lineage of five parties formed in the three decades can all be traced back to the Sarawak National Party (SNAP), which is the state’s oldest. 

The first was Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak (PBDS) which was formed after a leadership tussle in 1983. 

Some 20 years later, SNAP was deregistered because of another leadership crisis and the Sarawak Progressive Democratic Party (SPDP) was formed. 

In 2004, SNAP’s first splinter party, PBDS, also reached the end of its road after a bitter feud over its leadership. Within days of PBDS deregistration, Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) was born. 

And last year, a group of former PBDS members and supporters succeeded in getting PBDS Baru registered. 

It didn’t take long before another quarrel erupted and this time it was in PRS. Although the party survived, a group of members left to form the Sarawak Workers’ Party (SWP) in 2010.

All of the new parties were formed by mainly Dayak leaders with a small group of Chinese tycoons in tow. Only SWP and PBDS Baru did not become BN parties.

In Sarawak politics, sometimes you have to suspend logic and rationale. Where else in the country can you find partyless BN YBs or BN elected representatives in an opposition party, which is logically what Teras is? And where else will you hear of the possibility of “parking” a partyless YB in an existing party until a permanent home is found for him?

Now about Teras, it can actually be considered a SPDP splinter party since the party’s YBs make up the majority and let’s not forget one of them is the SPDP president himself, Tan Sri William Mawan. Teras has six former SPDP reps, four former SUPP reps and one former SWP assemblyman. 

Mawan left SPDP, claiming there was a mutiny in the party; while the four former SUPP reps left because they alleged Datuk Seri Peter Chin’s election as president was fraught with malpractices. 

As for the sole former SWP assemblyman, George Lagong, who is Pelagus assemblyman, talk has it that he left because party president Larry Sng could replace him in the next state election. 

So why this trend? Why is there a lack of party loyalty? 

Some political analysts and even the politicians themselves, say it could be a cultural thing. For the native communities, it is not unusual for a whole family to uproot from a village or a longhouse to start a settlement of their own if they have a disagreement with their village head. So perhaps, the Dayak leaders were subconsciously putting that into practice.

Then there are those who claim it is all the fault of former Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud, who is now the state’s governor. He has long been accused of subjecting the Dayak community, who make up the majority of the state’s population of about three million, to divide-and-rule politics. 

Similarly, the Chinese tycoons in the parties have been accused of causing quarrels and rifts and this could seem true if you look at the main players in the crisis in SNAP, PBDS, PRS and SPDP. 

Other political analysts say the Dayak themselves are to be blamed because they lack the political resolve to stand their ground and allowed themselves to be dragged through the mud.

But perhaps the reason for this trend is much simpler. 

Perhaps it is a matter of political survival, of self-preservation and even maintaining a lifestyle that one has become accustomed to — maybe these are reasons why these leaders are willing to see their parties die but not their positions in BN.

So where do the constituents fit in all this? 

They are the enablers. They might complain about it but that’s about as much as they will do.

In Sarawak, it cannot be denied a huge majority of people are supporters of BN. Their numbers have obviously fallen in urban areas but in rural areas where these Dayak leaders serve, support for the ‘dacing’ is still generally strong. 

And for so long as leaders can count on the support of their voters to get re-elected — no matter what they do — this trend will continue.

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