The Sarawak gambit

Maclean Patrick, Hornbill Unleashed

The moves that the people in Sarawak make on the political chessboard are crucial as the electoral battle nears.

It took the death of a young Tunisian graduate, Mohamed Bouazizi, a fruit seller; to ignite the call for change in the Middle East. Demonstrations against high unemployment, food inflation, corruption, lack of freedom of speech, lack of political freedom and poor living conditions followed suit which led to the ousting of president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on Jan 14, 2011.

It took 28 days to end 23 years of dictatorship in Tunisia.

Sarawak has 10 days (April 6-16) to make up its mind whether it wants to vote out 30 years of dictatorship.

Yet, the battle for change may have been lost at the starting line because right now the Alternative Front is too busy playing poker to concentrate on the finish line.

The battle has been lost on two fronts: the squabbling between DAP and PKR over seat allocations and the main stand of SNAP.

Frustration is mounting over the inability of DAP and PKR to unite and provide a single platform for voters. This tussle is detrimental to the image of both parties in Sarawak.

DAP will fare better than PKR since support among the Chinese majority in the urban areas will surely be for DAP. The Sibu by-election was a mere precursor to what the Chinese can do as a collective voice.

Expect Kuching, Bintulu and Miri to go the same way like Sibu and in turn this will signal the demise of Sarawak United Peoples’ Party (SUPP).

PKR, on the other hand, may find it difficult to make inroads into the rural communities. The rural voters are weary of PKR, which is largely seen as a peninsula-based party that may choose to import and impose its ideologies on Sarawak if it has a strong enough majority. This is a valid fear; one instilled by developments in Sabah the moment Umno stepped in.

Thus, a “Borneonised” PKR is helpful to allay the fears of the rural electrolate. PKR needs to send a clear message that Sarawak PKR can stand on its own without federal support.

And this needs to begin with the allocation of seats with DAP. The federal PKR should not influence or dictate this process and allow the local PKR chapter to handle all negotiations.

Sentimental bond

The second point of contention is the stand of SNAP.

SNAP will fare better than DAP and PKR combined, since there is still a sentimental bond between SNAP and the rural communities, especially the Dayaks. This is SNAP’s powerbase, where the dormant and timid Dayak voters have never failed to deliver for Barisan Nasional (BN) all this while.

But of late, the anger against the grabbing of native lands, the Al-Kitab fiasco and ineffective Dayak politicians may move the Dayaks to vote against BN. And SNAP stands to benefit from this shift in preference.

Anger against BN and the fear of a federal PKR may push the rural voters towards the only other alternative – SNAP.

Yet, SNAP is a mysterious and seemingly dangerous dark horse.

Revelations that SNAP may be acting as an agent for the federal BN to topple Chief Minister Taib Mahmud will not go down well with the Dayaks. A resurgent SNAP which is at the beck and call of the federal BN is no different from Taib’s Parti Pesaka Bumiputra Bersatu (PBB) – locally instituted but federally directed.

SNAP needs to state where it stands. Will SNAP represent a free and independent Sarawak within the Malaysian federation? Will SNAP ensure that power returns to Sarawak to govern its own affairs?

The Sarawak gambit is played out for the voters: will it be PKR-DAP or SNAP?