Despite it is a comparatively new party, PRS is slowly gaining its strength among the Dayak community, and in its seven years of existence it has now more than 45,000 members about 99.9% percent of them are rural Dayaks.
It has six members of parliament and eight state assemblymen, while SPDP has four MPs and six assemblymen and SUPP has five MPs and six assemblymen.
PBB has 14 MPs and 35 assemblymen. DAP has two MPs and 13 assemblymen, PKR has two assemblymen and one independent assemblyman.
Its six MPs are Joseph Salang (MP for Julau), who is also deputy minister of information, communications and Culture; Joseph Entulu (Selangau), who is also minister of rural and regional development; Billy Abit Joo (Ulu Rajang), Aaron Dagang (Kanowit), Masir Kujat (Sri Aman) and William Nyallau (Lubok Antu), and its eight state assemblymen are James Masing, Land Development Minister (Baleh), Alexander Vincent (Ngemah), Joseph Mauh (Tamin), John Sikie (Kakus), Mong Dagang (Bukit Bangunan), Snowdan Lawan (Balai Ringin), Liwan Lagang (Belaga) and Malcolm Mussen (Batang Ai).
In his speech at the 7th anniversary dinner on October 21, PRS President James Masing was very blunt warning party members that they must adapt to the changing political landscape if they want to see that the party not only remains strong, but also relevant.
“We are facing very organised, focussed and determined political foes who have gained public acceptance,” he said to more than 2,000 members at the dinner.
To his BN partners, he cautioned them that they cannot take for granted any more the support from the rural people although they may be BN’s ‘fixed deposit’ before.
“BN must tackle each segment of the society differently and with great care. It would be a mistake if we assume that all Malaysians want the same thing.
“We cannot lump rural and urban needs under one request, nor can we bluff and frighten our people to support us by denying them minor rural projects (MRP) funds if they refuse to heed to our requests.
“The political landscape has gone beyond MRP. Many candidates and political parties have fallen on the wayside because they failed to move and change with times and demands of their constituents,” said Masing, predicting that more will fall in the years to come if we do not change and adjust to the new political development.
Masing who is Land Development Minister also spoke of the many obstacles and challenges that the party had faced and overcome in its seven years of existence.
Masing was referring to a leadership crisis that had almost led the party to deregistration. It was only saved from such fate with the help of the then Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in April 2009.
Indeed it has a very turbulent history.
PRS was formed following a leadership crisis in Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak (PBDS) as a result of Masing teaming with Sng Chee Hua trying to challenge Daniel Tajem and Joseph Salang for the party’s two tops in the 2003 party election.
The determination by both sides to win the party leadership had created a deep division within the party so much so that each had its own ‘headquarters’ with its own ‘president’ and its own ‘supreme council’.
Both camps accused each other of cheating and submitting false annual returns to the Registrar of Societies, and as they did not trust each other, the two camps organised their separate ‘triennial delegates conferences’.
The two camps brought their complaints to the Registrar of Societies. As they were unable to see eye to eye on how to solve the crisis, PBDS was deregistered on December 5, 2003.
Tajem and Salang met with the then Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi to appeal for reinstatement of PBDS, and they were given another chance to organise another TGA.
When both sides still could not agree to the terms and conditions of holding the proposed TGA, PBDS was deregistered for the second time on October 21, 2004, the day when Masing’s men registered Parti Rakyat Sarawak.
Tajem and Salang refused to bring the matter to court.
Meanwhile, Masing’s party applied to join the Barisan Nasional and was readily accepted. Initially PRS had difficulty in getting ex-PBDS members to join the party, but after some time some leaders in the Tajem camp including elected representatives joined the party.
However, PRS was not that lucky. As it tried to regroup itself, the party was hit by another crisis when its deputy president Sng Chee Hua tried to replace Masing as the president of the party allegedly over some business opportunities.
The Sng group alleged that Masing did not share with them some of the lucrative projects and tenders given to the party.
As if history repeats itself. What happened to PBDS between 2003 and 2004 happened to PRS in 2006 organising their separate assemblies, and in the process the two camps elected their own ‘presidents’, with two ‘headquarters’ and two ‘supreme councils’.
Masing was ‘elected’ president of his camp, while Larry Sng who took over from his father was ‘elected’ president in his group. Larry Sng ‘sacked’ from his party, Likewise, Masing ‘sacked’ Larry Sng and all those who supported him from his party.
The two leaders, however, brought their case to be settled by the Registrar of Societies as to which one of the group was legally elected.
It was only in April 2009 when the Registrar recognised Masing and his supreme council were legally elected.
Now as the party celebrates its 7th anniversary, many Dayaks especially the former members of the defunct PBDS who have remained partyless are still harbouring suspicions on Masing’s motive and are unconvinced of his efforts to fight for the interest of the Dayaks.
They still can remember what he had done to PBDS which had then become the household word among the Dayak community.
Lately, however, Masing seemed to project himself as the spokesman of the Dayak community when Alfred Jabu, PBB Deputy President and Deputy Chief Minister and William Mawan Ikom, SPDP President and Social Development Minister appeared to be quiet on issues that concerned the Dayaks.
Masing is very vocal on issues such as the lack of Dayaks in the state civil service and the number of Dayaks holding high and important posts in government and government-linked companies, the perimeter survey of NCR land, the definition of NCR land, dams and the resettlement of displaced natives, and oil palm plantations in native lands, excessive timber operations and logjam.
On some of the more sensitive issues he privately told BN leaders of his concern and fear that they might be exploited by the Opposition.
It is understood that his party does not agree with the state definition of NCR land which comprises only temuda land (farming land), but agrees with the Court definition that NCR includes pulau galau (communal forest), pemakai menua (territorial domain), grave ground, tembawai (land where the old longhouses had been built), farming land, gardens, and etc.
In a recent seminar on NCR land, he has come up with a new strategy to develop the NCR land such as urging the natives to go for small holding under government supervision.
“Masing’s biggest problem is to convince the Dayaks especially the young and educated ones to support him in order to make PRS as the platform to fight for their interest within the Barisan Nasional.
“And if he is able to convince them, then Masing is not only able to get a listening ear from Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud, but he can also able to make PRS to play role of the defunct PBDS.
“Otherwise, Masing’s efforts are mere rhetoric for the consumption of the general public particularly the Dayaks,” said a former PBDS Member of Parliament.
As the Iban saying said: “ikak lelengak ikan enda ngaban, kudi muri hari enda ujan”.