Pakatan tussle for seats as Sarawak polls loom

By Clara Chooi, The Malaysian Insider

KUALA LUMPUR, March 4 — Pakatan Rakyat (PR) parties in Sarawak continue to be in a deadlock over seat allocations for state elections expected to be called as early as this month.

Sources told The Malaysian Insider that PKR is insisting on grabbing the lion’s share by contesting 52 seats in the 71-seat assembly, while PR’s new Sarawak-based opposition ally Sarawak National Party (SNAP) now wants to field candidates in at least 30 seats, more than the original 28 seats it contested in the last 2006 polls.

DAP has announced plans to contest in 20 seats, fuelled by its victory in the Sibu by-election, while PAS is believed to be willing to settle for five seats.

But while Sarawak PKR chief Baru Bian (picture) insisted to The Malaysian Insider that there was no tussle and negotiations were “friendly”, the opposition pact already appears to be showing cracks ahead of the coming polls.

When contacted this week, SNAP secretary-general Stanley Jugol recorded his frustration over PKR’s refusal to back down from its demands.

“It looks like they are not willing to give up the seats. We want 30 because we know that our popularity has grown and they still want 52.

“Look who is the troublemaker here,” he charged.

He added that SNAP was prepared to enter into a “fair” discussion with PR parties as it did not want the opposition to present a fractured front in the crucial polls.

“But they must be willing to negotiate. We hope that there will not be any three-cornered fights,” he said.

Sarawak DAP secretary Chong Chieng Jen admitted that the issue was a “sticky” one between the PR parties and expressed hope that all will reach a consensus before the polls are summoned.

“The way it is, it’s like we do not even have a place to contest,” he said jokingly.

State DAP chief Wong Ho Leng told The Malaysian Insider that the party was already prepared with its list of 20 candidates.

“Negotiations are still under way and at the end of the day, all PR parties will be contesting. We just have to work out the areas,” he said.

Baru claimed that PR parties were only locked in negotiations in 10 seats where they have overlapping candidates.

“We have ironed out the rest. At least more than 90 per cent of the seat allocations have been settled.

“So, I do not think there is a tussle,” he said.

He, however, admitted that PKR was pushing for the lion’s share with 52 seats but insisted that this was acceptable as the multiracial party was more popular.

“There are many areas where none of the other opposition parties have a presence. Only PKR does. So we already have our list of 52 candidates ready for the contest.

“At this point, I do not think there will be a problem. I am sure all parties will reach a consensus in time for the polls,” he said.

In an interview with The Malaysian Insider earlier, PKR deputy president Azmin Ali had said that SNAP should contest fewer seats.

He also said that negotiations with the local party would begin with “nothing more than three seats”.

It is likely that SNAP will clash with PKR as both are eyeing constituencies with Dayak and Iban majorities, while the DAP will move in on Chinese-majority urban centres.

But despite the deadlock, Baru insisted that the opposition pact was more than prepared to face its Barisan Nasional foes at the polls.

He claimed that the opposition had never before been this prepared for the Sarawak polls and expressed confidence that pact would present a formidable force.

“I have been in politics for a while and contested twice on an opposition ticket and once as an independent.

“I have never before seen a more prepared, united front,” he claimed.