Enter a Game Changer for PKR Sarawak?

By Anthony anak Ibong

Oh, how a seemingly innocent breakfast between Anwar Ibrahim, the Ketua Umum (of PKR) and Sng Chee Hua, a long-time friend of his, together with a few other respectable men could send some people in our party into a tizzy. The occasion was held in the open, not in secret. Why then did a simple chow ignite the proverbial rashes and hives among some? Politics being what it is, what could be the significance of the event?

In case you are wondering why a meeting of men talking amid the soothing flow of background muzak in a hotel restaurant got strong reactions from some people, consider these two words: Sarawak matters.

Sarawak is said one of the so called ”fixed deposits” for the governing BN. In a manner of speaking, Sarawak (and Sabah) anchors the Government. In 2008, its MPs managed to keep BN in power in Putrajaya. For now, for better or worse, the loyalty of Sarawak’s many MPs is still a primary factor in keeping the BN government in Putrajaya. In the future, where goes Sarawak, so goes the Government.

It was an apparently innocuous enough breakfast. In addition to the national leader, it was said that there were YB Dominique Ng; the newly minted Dato John Tenawie, PKR Vice President; Jimmy Donald, a long-time MP who is currently in between roles, although he is understood to be keenly eying the state seat of Bukit Begunan. Jimmy is known to the many local political aficionados as Sng’s ally and friend. In our PKR hierarchy in Sarawak, he is a party “bigwig”, a member of the state’s leadership. And then there was, if the news reports were to be believed, the man himself, Sng Chee Hua.

And by the way where was Baru Bian, the chief of PKR Sarawak? He appeared to have been somewhere else when this breakfast took place. How come? Your guess would be as good as mine in this respect.

Sng was having breakfast with Anwar? It was said that eyebrows were raised because of this. To those gnashing their teeth at having just found out about the event, I say this: save your energy. Don’t bother to raise even half an eye brow. Whatever phase of denial mode you are in, get a good dose of reality. Get over it, for by virtue of his present connection, Sng is embedded in PKR whether formally or informally. It appears that Sng has many more friends in PKR than people would like to admit. Therefore, appreciate the situation for what it apparently is. Only then can you begin to appreciate some elements of Sarawak politics.

Pushing for the Sarawak vote: a new twist as elections draw near [Sarawak Update photo]

In any case, it is Anwar and Sng’s right to have a meal together, even if the issues they discussed never went beyond the level of talking about the curvature of Sarawak River and its alleged e coli contents as it meanders through Kuching. Who among us could be so maniacally suspicious that we become apoplectic when a group of people sit around have a meal and talk? Surely they have the right to do so. Anwar Ibrahim and Sng, like the rest of us, have the right of to assemble – or meet. In my view, they can meet anywhere, any time. Not just over breakfast. And the wise James Masing, who have known Sng for years, is reported to have said the two men met all the time. So there you have it.

The relevant thing is that observers do remember well that Sng is a veteran political operator. It has been said that he was active in Sabah in the 1990s and of course Sarawak for many years. The man is known for hard work and is no stranger to success. Perhaps those who have had a string of disaster stories lately, including by-election losses, need to rub shoulders with old friends in the hope that the downward trend could be reversed. It was, after all, a New Year and wishing for loads of luck should not be out of order.

Still, why did some people go ballistic when they found out about the event?

It is a measure of the (Sarawak) political climate that we are in and the capabilities of some political fixtures we have that when these two and a few others on sat together for some food in Kuching, the event immediately set tongues wagging. The appearance of Sng together with Anwar Ibrahim, no matter how innocently contrived, does elicit intense discussion among some people. Particularly so since Sarawak is in the brink of a state election that could spell the beginning or the end of political careers.

As a consequence, questions were asked too. What were they doing? What were they thinking? More importantly, what are they going to do, if anything, in Sarawak politics? Does this represent a new alliance and how will it impact anyone’s roles and political future? Or, to put it more graphically: who will win and who will lose?

These are no idle concerns. It is particularly pertinent to those who rather not share the same political bed with Sng. For one thing, they probably have different political dreams from him. For another, politics being what it is, they possibly have had a few brushes with him in the past. And so perhaps, if they could help it, they would rather not revisit those experience or engender new ones lest they be subjected to the stresses that those are likely to entail.

To many people, Sng exudes the image of an accomplished gentleman. Many knew him when he was with the Sarawak National Party (SNAP). And then he was with the Parti Bangsa Dayak Sarawak (PBDS) and finally with Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS). If you should wander through the major towns in Sarawak, it is likely that you would find someone who knows him or knows of him. If we want to accentuate only the positive here, which is what I want to do, you could say that he was a particularly effective political operator. This was why the breakfast he had with Anwar Ibrahim assumed an importance of enormous local proportion: it was pregnant with possibilities.

But that is the man’s alleged past. How about the future. Particularly the immediate future? Here lies the real enchilada: Sng is that he is said to have a stable of candidates ready to face the coming state elections. By some accounts he has fifteen (the number varies) all primed and ready to be launched at the right time and some pundits say that at least five are capable of winning seats. If this is correct, then his domain is even bigger that a couple of BN political parties in Sarawak whose number of designated seat allocation is certainly a lot less than 15. And, to cap it all, there is this little but highly vital factor: he is said to be financially sound and a keen player, if that is the play. By any measure then, Sng is potentially a major political force in Sarawak. You better believe it.

Larry Sng…Daddy seeking a place for his partyless minister son? [Photo: Audie61]

If he has his strengths, Sng also has his needs and ambitions. What real man does not? His son is the young and hard working Larry who is the Ahli Dewan Undangan Negeri member for Pelagus. Larry is said to have no known vices. No cock-fighting for him, no gambling. None whatsoever, sir. And he was ensconced as a senior leader of Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) until it started to unravel, albeit briefly, a few years ago.

Larry’s apparent predicament is that he is partyless, a consequence of having been entangled in the internal political struggle that sent PRS to its near death experience in 2008. It is a measure of the man’s crucial positioning, not to mention his extended networkings, that despite being without proper party support, Larry retains his seat of Pelagus and his assistant minister post in the Sarawak government. Not surprisingly, many in the PRS leadership consider his ministerial position as an anomaly and have made it known that they want him replaced as assistant minister and as candidate in the coming election by a person of their choice.

But to be a minister, even an assistant one sans a political party, is clearly not a satisfactory arrangement. It is too much an ad hoc, a makeshift and politically rickety effort that probably would not last. Besides, if you have even bigger ambitions you will begin to ask yourself how you could climb the political ladder if you have no organization with a strong foundation.

It seem clear then that Sng’s need is to find a political party for son Larry, one that will allow the YB to contest again in the coming election and even attain greater position. Could Sng the elder then be sizing up PKR as a possible party to accommodate his son? Anwar Ibrahim said that they did not discuss politics during breakfast. And who is to disbelieve him? After all, there would be plenty of other occasions when they could meet and discuss various issues.

And so, what could critics of the breakfast meeting really want? They should remember, in PKR the byword is inclusiveness. As Anwar Ibrahim himself was reported to have said: people should be more mature in politics and take a view of befriending everyone but exercise the rights to preserve the interest of the party. In other words, if someone is to show up, no matter how unexpectedly, at least one could be decorous to the visitor. Thus, for those who want a different tack to be taken, those who dream that Sng be made some kind of persona non grata in this circle, the message is as obvious as the colour of the waters of the Rejang River (which is dirty brown, by the way): it is not going to happen.

Sarawak (and Sabah) are therefore the present Ground Zero when it comes to Malaysian politics. That makes the goings-on in Sarawak important at this time. For those in the state who view themselves with a sense of exceptionalism and some kind of manifest destiny (to have one of them be the next CM, no less?), any slight movement or any new wrinkle of perceived prior advantage at the local scene would be subjected to hard and close scrutiny. After all, a new development or event could spell the beginning of a change. The irony is that those who have been screaming for change could all of sudden become sullen and even abusive should changes happen to disadvantage them. Witness, for instance, the epithets thrown at SNAP recently. Here was a party that is merely trying to regain its footing, to be wholesome again, after years of being involuntarily moribund. How has the response been to SNAP’s initiative? From what I can evaluate, the party is fast gaining strength as veterans and new members realise their potential. There are others, for reasons better known to themselves, who are clearly uncomfortable with SNAP’s recovery. And they have responded with sniffs and brickbats.

And now, evidently, what we have is the apparent emergence of a person with a history of executing uncommon things and unprecedented consequences in the person of Sng Chee Hua. Many observers believe that he has the capabilities of a “game changer.” No wonder those who believe that they hold a kind of franchise in the PKR leadership and an exalted position in PR in Sarawak appear to be greatly perturbed at the apparently changing situation.

And so, where does that leave those in PKR who simply do not like Sng and the way that he has been carrying on. Assuming that there are those in our party who hold those attitudes, the choices of these critics are basically three.

You could, if you like, do nothing. What could happen is that you accept the apparent emerging trend. If you have difficulties accepting this trend yet want to remain in the party, you could always bury your head in the sand like an ostrich and hope, like all ostriches in a similar predicament, that no person or thing would come by and pluck your feathers out.

The other choice is to fight it out internally, in which case such questions as resources and manpower become relevant. Presuming that Sng is really interested in PKR, could you hope to match his reach and power base? Even if you think you have the resolve to fight, and you think you have the time and resources, there is no guarantee that people will adhere to your views.  

The last option is, well, you have to identify it yourself and follow it, if you wish.