SNAP’s return haunts Taib and PKR

Sarawak’s most influential Dayak party is rapidly gaining ground.

SNAP wants Sarawak PKR to focus on the Muslim seats, including the Muslim Melanau seats, and stay clear of the non-Muslim native seats. This is unlikely to go down well with Sarawak PKR, which is led by introvert land rights lawyer and activist Baru Bian, a Dayak Christian.

Joe Fernandez, Free Malaysia Today

Sarawak Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud, by all accounts, is thinking of going for state election sooner rather than later. This is being driven by the SNAP factor. The Sarawak National Party’s rapidly growing influence since its recent rejuvenation indicates that the Dayak majority of Sarawak is becoming increasingly restless. Taib, being a Melanau, is also a Dayak, but he’s from a Muslim minority.

Taib, according to one report, is fumbling “like a man driven berserk” for an election date in March or April. The speculation is that any date with a 9 in it, or which adds up to 9, such as 18 or 27, would be the date of the next state election. Nine is Taib’s favourite number.

With events on the Sarawak ground rapidly spinning out of control, he can no longer afford the luxury of waiting for Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak to accept his idea of the Sarawak election running simultaneously with the general election, which, according to his thinking, would take the intense opposition heat off him. This is especially true in the Chinese and urban areas, in many Dayak seats and some Muslim seats.

No such luck for Taib. Najib, with former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad breathing down his neck, is more interested in saving in own skin than swimming or sinking with the Sarawak chief minister. He may well remember Mahathir raising the hand of then Sabah Chief Minister Harris Salleh in public in 1985 and pledging to swim or sink with the Harris’s Berjaya Party. Harris sank, but Mahathir swam safely to shore.

Najib, whom Kelantan strongman Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah once described as yellow-bellied, is more inclined to treat Taib as a guinea pig in his bid for his own mandate. The number of state seats that Taib’s coalition can muster will give Najib an idea of how many of the 31 parliamentary seats in Sarawak he can count on when it is his turn to face the people.

In Sarawak 2011, there are shades of Sabah 1985, when the 45-day-old Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) defeated the mighty Berjaya. Even Harris lost his deposit at the hands of the unknown Kadoh Agundong.

Senior Sarawak Barisan Nasional (BN) leaders grudgingly concede that SNAP currently presents the most serious threat to Taib’s Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB) and its hold on power. DAP is a threat only to the Chinese-based Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP), which Taib may be forced to sacrifice anyway to fend off the opposition and to better focus on what he can keep.

What particularly rankles Taib is that Daniel Tajem anak Miri, a sworn enemy, is back in the limelight as SNAP adviser. Tajem, once deputy chief minister under Taib, was a senior leader in SNAP until 1983, when it suffered a breakup that gave birth to Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak (PBDS), evidently financed by PBB moneybags under Taib’s direction.

Deeply suspicious

Taib, still deeply suspicious that the Dayaks would unite and overthrow his family’s dynastic hold on power, also financed the splintering of PBDS after Tajem became its president in 2003. The breakaway was Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) under James Masing. Only 20,000 members from PBDS, less than half of them Dayaks, joined Masing.

PBDS itself was deregistered and attempts by Tajem to gather his people, numbering over 100,000 by a conservative count, under the Malaysian Dayak Congress (MDC) was thwarted by the Registrar of Societies (ROS) on “national security grounds”.

Tajem parked himself at the Sarawak PKR as adviser.

The rump SNAP was further humiliated when PBB financed the breakaway Sarawak Progressive Democratic Party (SPDP) in 2002 under William Mawan. SNAP was kicked out of Sarawak BN the day the ROS deregistered it. The courts subsequently saved SNAP after many months.

Taib tried to have PRS deregistered as well between the 2004 and 2008 general elections. However, then prime minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi stepped in and saved the party just as he was going for the early polls that eventually cooked his goose.

SPDP has also suffered at the hands of Taib’s mischief-making, which saw half its legislators swearing allegiance to Masing and making bids to join PRS.

All this has brought the current political situation in Sarawak full circle, with SNAP once again virtually calling the shots. The party stands poised as the most credible threat to the ruling coalition and well-placed to deny it the 29 Dayak state seats.

Harsh reality

Now Taib’s past is haunting his future.

Sarawak PKR would obviously like to have some of the Dayak seats besides the two Chinese seats promised it by DAP under a condition which is unlikely to be met. DAP wants PKR’s Dominic Ng of Padungan put in cold storage.

SNAP, however, wants Sarawak PKR to focus on the Muslim seats, including the Muslim Melanau seats, and stay clear of the non-Muslim native seats. This is unlikely to go down well with Sarawak PKR, which is led by introvert land rights lawyer and activist Baru Bian, a Dayak Christian.

At one time, there was strong talk that Bian would ditch PKR for SNAP, but this became difficult after he was appointed head of the party’s Sarawak chapter.