PKR’s eastern dream grows distant

While Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has his eyes on the parliamentary seats in Sarawak and Sabah to advance his dream of marching into Putrajaya, this has not impressed local leaders.

By Baradan Kuppusamy, The Star

THE Pakatan Rakyat’s ambition to capture Sabah and Sarawak as a prelude to taking Putrajaya remains a distant dream.

The weak link remains the PKR, which is unable to get its act together despite its head start with PKR leader Datuk Anwar Ibrahim enjoying links with their leaders from the time he was Umno deputy president and deputy prime minister.

As a Muslim leader and for six years as finance minister, Anwar had developed crucial religious, political and financial links in Sabah and Sarawak that could have been exploited to advance the Pakatan cause.

Nevertheless, unending squabbles, resignations and defections seem to be the order of the day and, on Sunday, newly-appointed Sabah PKR chairman Pajuddin Nordin not only quit the PKR but crossed over to Umno.

Worse, he did it on the day PKR president Datin Seri Dr Wan Azizah Ismail arrived in Sabah to sort out “leadership issues” in the state PKR.

Dr Wan Azizah is no stranger to the turmoil in Sabah PKR, having been a temporary state chairman while seeking a permanent solution – which never materialised.

Again, she has set up a so-called Sabah leadership council to bring order to the party in Sabah but public disillusionment with the PKR is already deeply ingrained.

It is back to square one for the PKR in Sabah, dashing any hope that the party could unite the various ethnic groups into a cohesive force to overthrow the state Barisan Nasional under the forceful leadership of Datuk Musa Aman.

In Sarawak, the setbacks for the PKR and Pakatan are equally daunting, limiting the chances of the Pakatan to unseat the multi-party Barisan.

The Pakatan was hoping its trump card in Sarawak would be the Sarawak National Party (SNAP), a powerful force in state politics in the 1970s – holding up to 18 state and nine parliament seats – before its fortunes declined.

Anwar had hoped SNAP would galvanise the crucial Dayak support behind the Pakatan but that hope is slipping away with the party in two minds over the failure of the Opposition Leader and the Pakatan to take up Sarawak autonomy as a key election issue.

Nevertheless, SNAP continues to be an exemplary image of a multi-racial political party that fights for Dayak rights.

It remains a magnet for a new generation of Sarawakians – the Dayak Baru – who are active in blogs and NGOs as well as being fierce critics of the Sarawak political establishment.

SNAP has developed a mind of its own, with many leaders taken up with Datuk Dr Jeffery Kitingan’s United Borneo Front (UBF) and Datuk Zaid Ibrahim’s Parti Kita.

Discussions are said to be ongoing between Snap and UBF leaders as well as between the two groups and the Malaysian Civil Liberties Movement to form an independent alliance as a viable third alternative that neither takes the stance of the Barisan nor Pakatan.

SNAP leaders are taken up because the new alliances promise to treat Sabah and Sarawak as equal partners and not as political underlings.

A large contingent of SNAP leaders reportedly attended the launch of Parti Kita last month, indicating they and others are working on a common political platform.

While Anwar has his eyes on the 31 parliamentary seats in Sarawak and 25 in Sabah to advance his dream of marching into Putrajaya, the Sabah and Sarawak leaders are more for autonomy and a fair share of the nation’s wealth.

In both the east Malaysian states, the DAP-PKR-PAS alliance is still seen as Orang Malaya, although the DAP has put roots in the urban centres where Chinese voters dominate.

The DAP entered Sabah and Sarawak around 1978 and has remained there to speak up for east Malaysian rights as well as to champion human rights and democracy.

The party won respect for fighting against autocrats like former Sabah chief minister Datuk Harris Salleh and incumbent Sarawak chief minister Tan Sri Taib Mahmud.

Despite that, the DAP remains a Chinese-centred, peninsular Malaysia-party, having failed to expand into the Dayak or Kadazandusun heartlands of Sabah and Sarawak.

A badly-mauled Pakatan has little chance of winning a majority of the 25 parliamentary seats in Sabah.

And, in Sarawak, its chances would be significantly damaged if main local partner SNAP decides to chart an independent course.