PKR confident of East Malaysia win despite Sabah crisis

(The Malaysian Inisder) – PKR is confident of cementing its influence in East Malaysia despite a leadership crisis in Sabah, saying it can win 25 out of the 30 state seats it plans to contest in the upcoming Sarawak state election.

PKR chief strategist Rafizi Ramli also said that PKR was not going to allow a “free walkover” for Barisan Nasional (BN) and would even field candidates in areas which were the ruling coalition’s strongholds.

“We are looking to field PKR candidates in more or less 30 seats in the upcoming Sarawak elections. Out of those seats, we decide on ‘winnability’… we are looking at 14 potential Iban seats, three orang Ulu seats, three Bidayuh seats and five Malay-mix-Chinese urban seats,” Rafizi told The Malaysian Insider in an exclusive interview.

The strategist expressed confidence for the Sarawak polls which must be held by July although the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) lynchpin has been stung by a spate of desertions, including the defection of newly-appointed Sabah PKR chief Pajudin Nordin from the party.  Pajudin’s exit over the weekend has caused the Sabah chapter’s leadership crisis to worsen with local state leaders still doubtful of the party’s interim 11-man presidential council as a solution to the crisis.

PKR de facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has been put on the defensive over the latest developments in the party, and has warned PKR lawmakers to “buck-up” if they want to run again in the next general election, widely expected to be called this year.

But the party’s focus now is firmly on the Sarawak election.

“We want to give them a good run for their money,” Rafizi said of the BN stronghold.

During the last state elections in 2006, BN fielded candidates for all 71 state seats. PKR had surprisingly contested 25 seats, of which it won one, while DAP contested 12 seats and PAS, one.

BN currently has 61 Sarawak state assemblymen, DAP has six and PKR has one. PAS has none. The Sarawak National Party (SNAP) controls one state seat and another is held by an independent assemblyman.

Both coalitions are working to get as many seats as possible in Sarawak, which is usually seen as a fixed deposit for BN. But PR has also been focusing on Chinese-majority seats in the urban areas apart from trying to expand its influence in the interior.

The Malaysian Insider understands that PKR has begun a two-month intensive campaign under the leadership of Sarawak PKR chief Baru Bian where key party leaders as well as MPs will be making frequent trips to help solidify PKR’s campaign machinery there.

All party leaders will now be assigned specific “job scopes” in respective states, in an attempt to restructure the party’s focus.

“The campaign will be dissected into three divisions, where every weekend Sarawak PKR state leaders will go to the ground spend the weekend in various constituencies, and they will be paired up with assigned national leaders during this time.

“So for example, when Baru Bian goes to his area, Tian Chua (Chua Tian Chang) will follow… help from Peninsular is given because to a certain extent PKR’s machinery is better in Peninsular… this is what will be known as systematic pairing,” Rafizi added. 

He said a similar approach would be adopted in Sabah as well, where national leaders will be visiting the state and help out with the campaign machinery.

The PKR chief strategist revealed that a Sabah PKR convention was in the works, and this would serve as a prelude to PKR’s election manifesto in Sabah, as well as its promote the new presidential council members.

The feedback obtained from the convention would then be used to finalise which presidential council member would become the next Sabah PKR chief.

According to Rafizi, the party’s political bureau met last night to discuss the potential leaders to be included in the council and will make an announcement on those chosen, by next week.

“There are issues specific to Sabah which needs to be articulated to the people of Sabah. Once these are articulated — illegal immigrants, question of autonomy — these are key issues which we have to articulate. Even national issues such as high unemployment rate resonates on a state level,” he said.

But Pajudin, who has since crossed over to Umno, has said he was “confident” his former party would repeat its 2008 electoral disaster in Sabah and fail to capture a single seat, whether state or parliamentary, come the next polls.

Pajudin blamed his bleak prediction on the central leadership’s continued refusal to listen to local Sabah leaders and its insistence on “interfering” in state matters.