KUCHING: Isn’t it rather unusual for an elected representative to decline defending his seat for the third time, if he is from Parti Pesaka Bumiputra Bersatu (PBB), the party that is the backbone of the state Barisan Nasional government?
Unusual, because there are others in the party who have served five terms or even six terms, and yet they demand to be re-nominated; sometimes, they ask their supporters to demonstrate urging the Party President to consider nominating their “wakil Rakyat” to defend their seats.
For them, they believe there are bigger economic pies, more opportunities to be rich and wealthy and the likelihood to be appointed to government posts of prominence.
But for Lihan Jok, he seemingly does not want all these. Instead he wrote to the Chief Minister and President of the party Abdul Taib Mahmud requesting to be dropped from the list of candidates for the coming state election.
After the last election, Lihan’s fortunes seemed to rise especially after he secured the Telang Usan seat for the second consecutive time with a bigger majority of 2771 votes. In 2001 his majority was 1,029 votes. Certainly, in the coming election, Lihan is still a winnable candidate.
But why does he decline to defend the seat?
According to Harrison Ngau, a lawyer and activist, Lihan is scared of his own shadow that has been haunting him since the state government announced to build two dams – one in Tutoh and the other at Long Keseh, Baram River.
In a meeting with the people in September 2010, Lihan described the Baram dam as the “gift of God” and the people should not only be thankful to God, but also to the State Barisan Nasional government which is proposing to build the dam.
“I am not ashamed to say that the mega project is a gift of God because as a result of the project the government will build a 60 km road from Long Lama to Long Keseh, benefitting about 12,000 Kayans from nine longhouses along the river,” he said.
The proposed road to link all the longhouses along the Baram River before the dam was ever conceptualized, more a wish for a better life for the people.
“What I am saying is that if there is no Baram dam, there won’t be any road being built. It does not make economic sense just building a road like that. The proposed dam justifies the building of the RM500 million road,” he said.
Lihan’s remarks drew sharp rebuke from educated Kayans and Kenyahs, many of them were his former students.
One former student asked him if he has the brains of a monkey by saying that dam is the gift of God.
Another former student said: “We don’t want that dam. It is not a gift from God, but it is a curse from hell, and we ask him not to lie to the Kayan people. Does this ‘bloody idiot’ hope to get a timber licence or what?”
Another Kayan intellectual said: “Perhaps Lihan thinks Taib (Chief Minister) is God. This road is only marginally beneficial to the ordinary rakyat and will benefit timber robber barons.
The dam, which we don’t need and which the people will also have to pay for, is only an excuse for Taib, his family and cronies to clean sweep all the remaining timber in the area. Then they will take the remaining land for oil palm plantations.”
A Kayan himself, Lihan and the 12,000 Kayans whose longhouses are below the Baram dam may be happy with the “gift of God”, but if you look into a bigger picture, as Burak S. Sam, an Orang Ulu leader sees it, the dam will present a completely different scenario.
“Once the dam is built, more than 10 longhouses comprising more than 10,000 Kayans, Penans and mostly Kenyahs and their farms, crops, fruit trees, century-old graves, livestock will vanish under a big lake which will reach Lio Mato, the furthest Kenyah longhouse in the Baram River.
“Schools, churches, chapels, clinics and places of historical significance to the Orang Ulu community will also be wiped out. The heritage of their forefathers and the pride of the community like Temenggong Oyong Lawai Jau (one of the founding fathers of Malaysian), Penghulu Tama Bulan Lian, Penghulu Jok Ngau, Penghulu Kebing, and Penghulu Nyipa will just remain as fairy tales for our posterities.
“The resulting destruction and annihilation brought about by the flood from the dam is irrevocable and massive. So is this the fate that the so-called God-given dam will bring about?” asked Sam.
With the proposed dam, there are no longer talks of perimeter survey of their native customary rights (NCR) land and all issues of minor rural development projects will no longer be relevant.
The proposed 1000MW dam which is to cost more than RM1 billion is expected to submerge more than half of the Orang Ulu “land”.
Memorandums after memorandums have been submitted to the government expressing the people’s fears and urge the government not to proceed with the Baram dam.
The natives even ask for reports of the studies such as environmental assessment impact, social impact assessment, and other studies to be discussed openly and debated, before the construction of dam begins. But the government refuses to oblige.
A signature campaign to oppose the construction of the dam is being conducted among the Kayan, Kenyah and Penan communities. Their target is to collect at least 20,000 signatures.
The signatures campaign will form part of a memorandum to be submitted to the Federal Government, state government, Suhakam and to the United Nations on human rights.
“Hopefully, this memorandum will exert great pressure on the state government,” said one of the organisers.
Apart from the Baram dam issue, Lihan Jok also faces problems on native customary rights (NCR) land that is being licensed out allegedly by his boss Taib.
Huge NCR land areas in Sungai Tutoh and Sungai Apoh have been licensed to Pusaka KTS Forest Plantation Sdn Bhd.
“He cannot question or ask Taib to cancel all these, even though at the same time the Telang Usan people want Lihan as their elected rep to speak out for them.
“Lihan realises that Telang Usan people are very unhappy with the present perimeter survey of NCR land there which fails to follow their ‘garis menua’ or ‘antara’ (boundaries),” said Harrison.
“With all these problems confronting him and thousands of native people are against the dam, do you think Lihan wants to defend the seat?” asked Harrison, who is a potential candidate for Telang Usan.
Telang Usan used to be the stronghold Sarawak National Party from 1963 until 1987 when its elected rep the late Joseph Balan Seling leap-frogged to PBB.
Ever since then, it has become the stronghold of PBB.