Writing on the wall for Proxy Politics
by Joe Fernandez@www.freemalaysiatoday.com
More than at anytime since the “Ming Court Affair” of 1987, the Sarawak state election this time will be the clearest ever indication that the writing is on the wall for the proxy politics foisted on the state by first Malaysian prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman to keep it securely within the federation. Therein lies the window of opportunity for UMNO to enter the state “to postpone the inevitable”.
It was the Tunku who created the concept of Ketuanan Melayu – initially Malay political supremacy and dominance – which was translated into action in Sabah and Sarawak by local Muslim proxies of the ruling Malay elite in Kuala Lumpur. This means that the leverage of political power must be kept out of the hands of the Dusun and Dayak, “latent separatists”, in Sabah and Sarawak respectively.
The Tunku’s successors have since extrapolated Ketuanan Melayu to mean all-round Malay supremacy and dominance. This is evident in the distortions and deviations in the implementation of Article 153 of the Federal Constitution and its arbitrary extension to every facet of life in Malaysia.
Melanau Sarawak Politics
In Sarawak, the Melanau Muslim family of Abdul Rahman Ya’kub was chosen by the Tunku to be Kuala Lumpur’s local proxies in the state. Abdul Rahman himself became chief minister in 1970 after the “vacuum” created by the ouster of two Dayak chief ministers – Stephen Kalong Ningkan and Penghulu Tawi Sli. The Melanau is also a Dayak group. However, the Muslim elements among the Melanau identify, for political expedience, more with the other Muslims like the Malays to benefit from the concept of proxy politics.
Unlike in 1987, when only the Dayaks backed a Malay rebellion against Sarawak Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud, Abdul Rahman’s nephew and successor, the Chinese are on board this time for change and reform in the state. Not the least of the factors is the number of stories making the rounds on the stupendous wealth of Taib and his family.
When the final results are in on April 16, a majority of the 15 Chinese seats, if not all, would have fallen to the opposition and the DAP under Lim Kit Siang.
The chances are bright for the DAP in Sarawak for three reasons.For one, almost all the 15 seats where the DAP is contesting are straight fights with the embattled Sarawak United People’s Party(SUPP). The exceptions are Padungan where the party is involved in a three-cornered tussle with incumbent Dominic Ng from the PKR who is standing as an independent. The other seat is Bukit Kota which is a four-cornered fight for the DAP involving the BN and two independents.
The Chinese community has had it with Taib’s policies which see his family, relatives, friends and cronies dipping their finger into every economic pie in the state. The Chinese no longer want to stand by idly and allow the gross distortion of economic forces to continue unabated in the state. They can understand, and even accept, the bridging of the gap between them and the Bumiputera have-nots. However, they draw a line at crony capitalism which does nothing for the masses as it continues to raid the public treasury at the expense of all.
Thirdly, the Chinese are no longer willing to tolerate proxy politics in Sabah and Sarawak. They see their unity as a community under one political platform embracing Sabah, Sarawak and Peninsular Malaysia – read DAP and Kit Siang – as the best antidote to the ketuanan Melayu mindset in Putrajaya and similar pretensions in PKR, its comrade-in-arms in the opposition.
In short, the DAP sees SUPP as a nuisance with a slavish mindset, standing in the way of the bigger picture that they have in mind for the betterment of Sarawak, Sabah and Peninsular Malaysia. The Chinese had the opportunity to break ranks with Taib in 1987. Instead, they propped him up in the snap elections that followed and, since then, with nothing to show in return. Hence, their turning against him since the 2006 state election.
SUPP has been in cahoots since 1970 with Taib’s Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB) to divide and rule the Dayaks, the majority community in the state.
While all 15 Chinese seats are allocated to SUPP and the 26 Malay/Melanau seats – 19 Malay and seven Melanau – to PBB, the non-Melanau Dayaks – Iban, Bidayuh, Orang Ulu – have been carved up as follows: PBB (nine); SUPP (four), Parti Rakyat Sarawak or PRS (nine) and Sarawak Progressive Democratic Party or SPDP (eight).
The resulting scenario has seen the non-Melanau Dayaks weakened considerably in political and other terms while adding to the strength of the Chinese and the Malays and Melanau in the State Legislative Assembly at their expense. The political weakness of the Dayaks, the result of a deliberately engineered disunity, can be seen in the fact that they continue to lose their native customary rights (NCR) land to Taib, his family, relatives, friends, cronies, the state government and government-linked companies.
The Dayaks have been reduced in the process to being a servant class of hewers of wood and drawers of water for others. Already, according to the World Bank late last year, Sarawak is the poorest state in Malaysia after Sabah. Much of this poverty is among the Dayak, the 30% literate Iban and illiterate Penan – an Orang Ulu group – in particular.
Another symptom of Dayak weakness is the continuing influx of Muslim foreign labour into the energy-intensive SCORE economic corridor in Sarawak. This has the potential of further marginalising and disenfranchising the community, similar to what happened to the Dusun in Sabah and the local Muslims.
The Chinese, however, are now coming around to the view that weakening the Dayaks politically does no credit to them and indeed merely stores up unimaginable trouble for the future. The majority Dayaks across the border in Kalimantan, who recently went on a bloody rampage against Muslim migrants from Madura, are only too fresh in their minds.
The key to freeing Dayak politics in Sarawak, besides getting the Chinese away from the Muslim Melanau-dominated PBB, is to wreck PBB component which holds nine Dayak seats. Indeed, even one of these seats falling to the opposition would signal that it would only be a matter of time before PBB bites the dust.
Taib would not mind losing any number of Dayak seats from PRS and SPDP to the opposition, since the Dayaks would be further divided to facilitate proxy politics, but he and his family would “go berserk if even one PBB seat fell”. Already, PRS president James Masing feels that he must walk while constantly looking behind, over his shoulder, “lest someone stab me in my back”.
Likewise, Taib considers the 19 Malay and seven Melanau seats as sacred territory for PBB to ensure that he continues to lord it over PBB which has been allocated 35 of the 71 seats at stake in this election.
If PKR takes even one Malay seat away from PBB – it’s next to impossible to wrest any Melanau seat – it would be enough to send the shivers down Taib’s spine. The entire house of political cards in Sarawak would be seen as in imminent danger of collapsing and a free-for-all situation emerging. That would be the moment of truth for UMNO in Sarawak.
The worst possible result for BN in Sarawak would be to win all Dayak seats while losing the majority of Chinese seats and a significant number of Malay seats to the opposition. Therein lies the potential for DAP and PKR – engaged in 24 straight fights in Chinese, Malay areas – to unsettle Taib and Putrajaya.