Keeping Umno out of Sarawak

By Pak Bui

Prime Minister Najib blogged about his recent visit to the Bidayuh village of Kampung Pichin in his posting “1Malaysia is Alive in Sarawak”.

Najib praised Sarawak’s multiculturalism to the rafters. He hailed Sarawakians as a ready-made model for his 1Malaysia sales pitch. But most Sarawakians consider this laughable.

Najib’s 1Malaysia chit-chat sits uneasily with his divisive 2PerakMB constitutional vandalism, mass arrests of peaceful demonstrators, and unrelenting impoverishment of the people of Sarawak and Sabah.

The PM boasted in his blog that he had followed in his father Tun Razak’s footsteps in Serian. This was unadorned irony. Najib has big boots to fill indeed. Abdul Razak was the Father of Racial Politics, the most vociferous Umno proponent of “Ketuanan Melayu”. In May 1969, Razak staged a bigger putsch, within Umno and the Cabinet, than Najib has ever managed in Perak.

Umno in Sarawak

3645839903_9a188eff3fThe Malaysian Insider’s view on Najib’s posting was that race relations in Sarawak are relatively unblemished, only because Umno has failed to gain a foothold in Sarawak’s politics.

There is some merit to this argument, although Umno would find it more difficult to manipulate race relations in Sarawak than it has done in Sabah and Peninsular Malaysia.

Sarawakians have not allowed indiscriminate immigration of new Umno constituents, unlike Sabahans. Sabahans Mustapha Harun and Harris Salleh opened the floodgates for migrants with an affinity for Umno, facilitating UMNO’s dominance. Sarawak’s ethnic mix does not provide a strong Umno support base.

Even so, Najib’s shaky position as Umno President makes him hanker for more Umno MPs. Each Umno MP in Sarawak would head a new Umno division, to bolster Najib’s support in his divided party.

Repeated rumours of Umno moving into Sarawak have fizzled out in the past. Umno flags have fluttered in Petra Jaya, Kuching and atop Canada Hill, Miri, at intervals, only to vanish soon afterwards.

In 2006, Bernama reported that Affendi Jeman, leader of a self-styled Sarawak Umno Pro-Tem Committee (JPUNS), had been bragging that JPUNS had recruited 100,000 Umno members in Sarawak.

Umno’s Secretary-General at the time, Radzi Sheikh Ahmad, and Parti Pesaka Bumiputera (PBB) Deputy President Abang Johari Openg both denied an Umno move.

These rumours appeared because of conflict within PBB. Like any party, PBB has its own internal schism: Malays in Sarawak resent Taib’s overwhelming control of the state economy. Elite members of Taib’s Melanau ethnic group, including Taib’s own family members, have grown wildly rich, while the majority of Malays remain neglected and poor.