KUCHING, April 5 ― Even as it seeks to broaden its appeal as a party for all races, Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) is pushing the envelop on its core Dayak voter base in the run-up to the state election.
The Dayaks comprising the Iban, Bidayuh and Orang Ulu sub-tribes forms about two-thirds of Sarawak's 2.6 million population, and the Barisan Nasional (BN) component party believes the indigenous group is crucial to the coalition’s sustained control of government in Malaysia’s largest state.
However, PRS president Tan Sri Dr James Masing told Malay Mail Online in a recent interview he feels the Dayak people remain discriminated against in terms of development and even in the power-sharing concept within the BN coalition government at both state and federal levels.
“Do not sideline the Dayaks in these two areas because we are going to face a lot of educated Dayaks in the coming state elections and they know where they stand,” he said.
Masing voiced disgruntlement that PRS had not been rewarded with an extra spot in the federal Cabinet despite having won all six parliamentary seats it contested in the 2013 general election, compared to senior coalition partner MCA, which saw its parliamentary wins reduced to seven in the same polls.
“It seems to me that Najib paid scant heed to the rural Dayak voters that helped keep Umno and the Barisan Nasional in power in Putrajaya,” he said, referring to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.
PRS has one full minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in the form of Datuk Joseph Entulu Belaun; in contrast MCA has two men in charge of separate ministries and two deputy ministers.
In the last state elections in 2011, PRS won eight out of nine seats it was contesting; losing only in Pelagus to an independent, George Lagong.
In the next state election which must be called before June next year, Sarawak is likely to elect 82 lawmakers compared to 71 in the past polls.
Masing, who is also Sarawak land development minister, claimed the Dayaks were also being marginalised in the federal civil service and were frequently passed on in career advancement positions in favour of their peninsular-based peers.
“The marginalisation of Dayaks in the federal civil service is not by design, but due to the ignorance of federal recruitment officers who think Dayaks lack quality,” he said, voicing concern over what he alleged to be a lack of proportionate representation of Sarawak indigenes in the federal government service sector.
The 12-year-old party, which Masing helped found after the native-based Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak was deregistered in 2003, has been pushing for the federal government to replace the term “lain-lain” (others) in the race box on official forms with Dayak.
Masing is also pushing for Putrajaya to categorise non-Muslim natives in the hornbill state as Dayaks, on the belief that adopting the term would confirm their ethnic identity.
“Look at the Chinese. There are many sub-ethnic groups under Chinese such as Hokkien, Foochow, Hakka, Cantonese and so on, but they use Chinese to refer to their race. It’s their identity and this indeed is a uniting factor. Same goes for Dayak,” he said.
He added that PRS has been very concerned at the creep of Islamic religious control and its effect on Christian Sarawakian natives now living and working in peninsular Malaysia.
He noted that some states have Islamic laws that prohibit use of the word “Allah” for God in their religious worship, with a nod to the controversial seizure of over 300 Bibles in Malay and Bahasa Iban by Selangor’s Islamic law enforcers.
Though the seized Al-Kitab and the Bahasa Iban Bup Kudus have since been returned to Bumiputera Christians, Masing said the seizure has struck fear among Sarawakian Christians. many who were Dayak.
“We will speak without fear or favour on issues affecting the Dayak community,” Masing said.