Wednesday, September 30, 2009
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Thursday, September 17, 2009
From the very beginning prior to and after Merdeka, there was this heavy tendency for federal intervention into Sarawak politics to ensure the creation of a Malay nationalist polity through Malaysia. Even then, Umno was determined to create Sarawak in its own image. This tendency at the Malayanisation of Sarawak politics was resisted by the first Iban chief minister, Stephen Kalong Ningkan of the Sarawak National Party (Snap).
Both Rahman and Taib were consummate Machiavellian politicians. Through their masterly manoeuvre, Berjasa and Parti Negara Sarawak (Panas) merged into a single party, finally uniting all the Sarawak Malay and Melanau Muslims under one umbrella. A further merger with the Dayak-based Parti Pesaka Anak Sarawak (Pesaka) to form the Parti Pesaka Bumiputra Bersatu Sarawak (PBB) in 1973.
This is what he has to report:
“In the 1991 state election, PBDS put up 34 Dayak and Chinese candidates. They were trounced and managed to retain only seven seats. They applied to rejoin state BN after the results were announced on Sept 29, 1991. Finally they rejoined BN on May 31, 1994.
“Power struggle in Snap in 2002 resulted in the expulsion of Tiong King Sing and the formation of Sarawak Progressive Democratic Party (SPDP), followed by the deregistration of Snap on Nov 5, 2002. SPDP was registered on Nov 8 after three days of application.
“Those remaining partyless members numbering about 100,000 after the deregistration of PBDS wanted to form Malaysian Dayak Congress. But the ROS (Registrar of Societies) rejected the application submitted on May 6, 2005 on grounds of security under Article 7 of Societies Act. Now appeal is still on to the Home Ministry. Now more of the ex-PBDS members are joining PKR.”
The above account shows you how messy Dayak politics can be in Sarawak. The obvious conclusion is that Dayak political leaders are too prone to fight to the death whenever there is a power struggle within their party. Their inability to resolve their differences is the despair of their supporters and commentators. The logical rhetorical question is this: if they cannot find unity among themselves, how can they hope to unite the diverse Dayak people?
The all-powerful ROS
But there is more than meets the eyes. The shrewd observer would immediately note how awesome the power of the Registrar of Societies (ROS) can be, in dissolving political parties, in deciding which faction should retain control of the party, and in approving within days application for the formation of a new political party by a certain faction, while similar applications by other factions can be rejected on flimsy grounds.
In reality, the ROS takes order from the home minister, who answers to the prime minister in turn, and both these powerful federal offices are held by Umno bigwigs. It is then obvious that Umno and federal interference in the internal politics of Sarawak has continued to divide and weakened Dayak political base, as has been the case since the formation of Malaysia.
The root cause of this particular aspect of the Dayak dilemma lies again beneath the demographic reality of Malaysia. Although the Dayaks collectively constitute the largest ethnic community within Sarawak, they form a mere 5% or 6% of the total population of Malaysia. Generally, Dayak political leaders feel that they must belong to the Barisan family in order to be effective to serve the Dayak people. Being in the opposition at federal or state level is not a long-term option.
Once exiled to the political wilderness, Dayak politicians will be excluded from the vast network of largesse made available to BN YBs by the state government administration, such as minor rural development projects and agricultural subsidy schemes. Worst still, opposition Dayak candidates will have to face the monumental task of winning at the poll in the next general election. Electoral contests in the rural and semi-rural constituencies in Sarawak are notoriously expensive, and vote buying in one form or another is the norm rather than the exception. In sharp contrast, BN Dayak candidates have at their disposal seemingly inexhaustible campaign funds.
They need statemen, not politicians
In this context, the arrival of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) in a big way in recent days offer many fresh and interesting opportunities for political redemption for Dayak politics in Sarawak.
They have also announced their intention to march to Putrajaya, and so offer hope for Dayak politicians to free themselves from this fatal slavish dependence on the federal BN.
It is now a famous lesson that if aspiring reformers want to bring meaningful change to their own society, then they must first reform themselves. As Obama used to say on his campaign trail, “We are the change that we seek.”
It is now obvious that appealing to mere ethnic unity has come to a dead end for Dayak politics. If Dayak leaders want to liberate their people from the bondage of ignorance and poverty, they must seek alliance with similarly depressed and disenfranchised ethnic communities to form a pan-Sarawak people’s movement for radical change. They must rethink their agenda, and begin a new conversation based on the common good of all. They need statesmen, not mere politicians.
In this critical process, PKR offers a suitable vehicle, because their ideology speaks of Ketuanan Rakyat, or people’s dominance. To resolve the Dayak dilemma, the Dayaks will have to seek redress in more universal inclusive and non-ethnic terms.
While PKR chief Anwar Ibrahim has made grand declaration of intent on taking power in the next Sarawak elections, very few Sarawakians themselves would be convinced that it would be an easy venture.
I myself would be happy if the opposition coalition can win 24 or more state seats, thus denying BN a two-thirds majority in the Sarawak state assembly. Twenty-four indeed would be well within striking distance, since I expect the DAP and their partners to do well in the urban constituencies.
But in Sarawak, as in other parts of the country, opposition politics can only survive in the urban Chinese areas for a certain time. In native majority areas in Sarawak, opposition parties that have no ambition to rule the state will not attract bright political talent as well as the support of the voters. So what Anwar has announced is not just grandstanding, but the right thing to do.
These village chiefs used to be freely elected by their villagers. Sometimes, the position was a hereditary one, passed down from father to son.
After the emergence of political parties in Sarawak following independence in 1963, it was increasingly clear that the Tua Kampong and the Tuai Rumah played a critical role in the fight for grassroots political support.
In fact, the Sarawak BN government has been quite successful over the past few decades through all kinds of administrative fiat in bringing these otherwise independent village chiefs under their direct control.
Today, even if a village headman is still elected by his villagers, his status must first be confirmed by the BN-controlled state government. He is answerable to low-grade state civil servants like district officers and the residents above them. Today, a village chief is akin to somebody at the lowest rung of the state civil service.
Joseph Tawi, in a Jan 6 posting on his blog has this to say:
‘Today, the criteria for Tuai Rumah have changed; he must be educated at least up to Form Three, be pro-Barisan Nasional (BN) and not necessarily having a deep knowledge of Iban Adat (this he can learn from the Tusun Tunggu, a book containing all the customs, traditions, taboos, fines, etc.).
‘After being elected, his appointment must be endorsed by the government so that an allowance of RM450 per month can be given to him. His duties include being the ‘eyes and ears’ of the BN government, a judge, a law-enforcer, tax-collector, consultant, and chairman of the JKKK (Village Security and Development Committee) through which government funds are being channelled.’
Be that as it may, not all village chiefs are all that compliant. I have personally met village chiefs who could stand up against powerful logging and plantation interests on behalf of their people. For their bravery and their service, they had been removed from their posts by the state government who then appointed others to replace them.
He felt great shame for being charged with this minor crime. On the day of the court hearing, I brought along a heavyweight lawyer from Kuching to defend him. The ‘Pengulu’ and the ‘Pemanca’ who were supposed to try him evaporated into thin air.
We also attended a gawai in his longhouse and made fiery speeches to exonerate this wonderful Tuai Rumah from his alleged sin. I was still a ‘YB’ then and my words carried quite some weight with the village folks.
But general elections are a different business altogether in the rural communities.
Naturally, it is common for village voters to defer to the opinion of the Tuai Kampong or the Tuai Rumah even on the matter of voting for a candidate. But I have been to some longhouses where the village was split into two over their choice of candidate. After the election was over, the losing side would just move out and build another longhouse for themselves. Only my Iban readers can appreciate the financial difficulty and the emotional pain of such a drastic move.
Now, Joseph Tawi has something new to report on the same blog posting quoted above. The paragraphs below are taken from his soon-to-be-published book The Broken Shield Volume Two – The Dayak Dilemma.
No seat is easy to win
‘In this 2006 election, the BN devised an entirely different campaign strategy, which caught the opposition with their pants down. Previously, the money was passed directly to the voters on the eve of polling. This time the distribution was done through their Tuai Rumah.
‘Three days before polling, all the headmen were summoned for a meeting where they were coached to say something to their own people. And on their return to their respective longhouses, they were given some money that was to be shared with the voters of their own longhouses. In addition to this, there were also minor rural development projects that were promised to be implemented.
‘The Tuai Rumah then called for a meeting of the longhouse folks and ordered them to vote for the BN candidates. Anyone who failed to follow his order or directive would not be given any share of the goodies or any project that the government had promised them. And he was also likely to be expelled from the longhouse.
‘The Tuai Rumah must ensure that his followers must vote for the BN candidate, otherwise the BN candidate would report him to the district officer, the resident or the state secretary. As a Tuai Rumah is like a civil servant, action including the termination of his Tuai Rumahship could be taken against him. He might lose his monthly allowance of RM450 per month. And the promised minor rural development projects might be withdrawn.
After the distribution of money and the threats issued, everything changed; longhouse headmen, their followers and even Tajem’s own relatives voted against him. And a similar tale of vote- buying had also been reported in other Dayak constituencies.’ Daniel Tajem – a long-time personal friend of mine – may be unknown outside Sarawak, but he is still a household name in the Land of the Hornbills. He had held that constituency -Bukit Bangunan - near the town of Sri Aman six times, including the period when he was in the opposition. When an established brand name like that can fall to the hands of vote-buying and puppet-like Tuai Rumah, no seat is easy to win for any opposition party – including PKR.
I suppose that, once the Kuala Terengganu by-election is over, Anwar Ibrahim and his team of advisers would be sitting down over the impending Sarawak battle ahead. They would be thinking of what pledges to make to the people of Sarawak, if and when they take over the Sarawak government with the help of the other opposition parties.
Surely one of those pledges must be the restoring of the autonomy of the democratically-elected village chiefs throughout the state. The state government must recognise whoever is elected by the villagers as their headman, and pay them well nevertheless. Empowering the rakyat at the grassroots level would be the most meaningful reform in rural Sarawak indeed.
More money on trees than hornbills
A blogger by the name of Hantu Laut has this to say on his posting on December 27 2008:
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Di antara artis veteran yang menerima sumbangan kerajaan. Adakah berbaloi menubuhkan tabung khas untuk mereka kera kerajaan sudah ada Jabatan Kebajikan Masayarakat yang boleh menjalankan fungsi yang sama
"Pengubalan Akta Veteran bakal memberi menafaat kepada lebih 300,000 bekas tentera yang tidak berpencen....Better late than Never!"