Monday, January 2

2011 was an eventful year

KUCHING: As we usher in the year 2012, let us, however, ponder for a moment on some of the major events in 2011 that had direct or indirect bearing on our lives or that had influenced our mindsets and perceptions.

Topping the list of these events was the April 16 state election which saw the Opposition of Pakatan Rakyat coalition winning 15 seats – three by Sarawak PKR, and 12 by DAP.

Although the number is small as compared with 56 obtained by BN component parties including one BN friendly independent, it was a significant gain by the opposition from six to 15.

The Opposition could have won more if only there was a fair election.  Nevertheless, the support from particularly the rural communities had improved tremendously towards the opposition.

In urban areas, we saw Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP) had almost wiped out by the Opposition – one went to PKR, and 12 to DAP. It managed to retain the seats of Senadin and Bawang Assan, and four Dayak majority seats out of 19 seats it contested.

Thus SUPP which claimed to represent the Chinese community has lost the right to speak for or on behalf of the Chinese community.

The results of the election also shocked Sarawak Progressive Democratic Party (SPDP) when it lost two key seats to PKR especially the seat of Krian whose incumbent was SPDP Deputy President Peter Nyarok Anak Entri. The other seat was Ba’Kelalan which went to PKR chief Baru Bian.

Parti Rakyat Sarawak lost only one seat, the seat of Pelagus, to an independent candidate George Lagong, who is the uncle of the incumbent Larry Sng. Sng was sacked from PRS after he tried to ‘overthrow’ PRS President James Masing in a bitter leadership struggle. Masing blamed the defeat of his candidate to ‘sabotage’ by certain BN leaders.

During the 10 day campaign period, the Opposition successfully highlighted in urban constituencies the issues of corruption, abuse of power, nepotism and cronyism allegedly committed by the state government.  DAP in particular accused SUPP of part and parcel of the ‘corrupted’ government under Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud.

Taib’s wealth and that of his family’s and their grabbing of prime state land as well as native customary right land became the hottest issues. DAP said that Taib’s abuse of power had allegedly led to the deprivation of business opportunities among the Chinese.

Land rents and premiums and lands under Section 47, education, Chinese education and schools were too hot topics during the campaign.

Partly responsible for SUPP’s poor showing was also its own making - the internal bickering that had been going since 2004 parliamentary election, and worsened in 2006 state election during which SUPP lost six Chinese seats to the Opposition.  Despite the clear warning from the Chinese community, SUPP’s power struggle became uncontrollable; it even seeped into all the 43 branches of the party. Because, controlling the party means more government contracts, business opportunities, ministerial positions, directorships of government linked companies, and so on.

Thus, in the April election, SUPP suffered major losses. As a result of the losses, SUPP President George Chan stepped down as president claiming responsibility. But his stepping down heightened the bickering so much so that the party was split right at the centre with one group led by Peter Chin, the organising secretary and other by Wong Soon Koh, the deputy secretary general.

In their attempts to replace Chan, their supporters resorted to ‘underhand’ tactics in branch elections to elect delegates for the party’s triennial delegates conference. These delegates would then elect the office-bearers including the president.

However, Wong and his team and supporters boycotted the TDC held from 9 to 11 December accusing Peter Chin and his supporters of breaching rules and regulations regarding branch elections and TDC.

Chin was elected as the president of the party without much effort at the TDC.

But Wong and his team have regarded Chin’s election as ‘illegal’, and have brought their complaints to the ROS.

If it is found ‘guilty’ by ROS, SUPP may be ordered to have another TDC failing which it may be deregistered.

What had made SUPP’s TDC much more interesting than some of the Hong Kong TV series was that the fire that burnt the conference room of the SUPP headquarters two days after the TDC.

This had prompted Wong to say that this was an act of sabotage in order to get rid of evidence of manipulations of the TDC.

Now the next question is: How will a divided SUPP fare in the coming parliamentary election?  Of particular concern to the BN leadership are the six Chinese majority constituencies of Stampin, Bandar Kuching, Lanang, Sibu, Sarikei and Miri.

The next issue was the cabinet reshuffle. Following the defeat of Chan in his Piasau seat, Chief Minister Taib Mahmud had a difficult task in forming his cabinet without a strong Chinese representative. It took him more than five months to form a state cabinet and had failed to fill one of the two posts of Deputy Chief Ministers.

As there are only two Chinese elected representatives, it would not be fair for Taib to appoint one of them as a deputy chief minister especially when SUPP has only six seats. Moreover, such an appointment will sure to slight James Masing whose party has eight seats.

Many would believe that the post of Deputy Chief Minister should go to Masing; but Taib did not consider it. Instead he just promoted Masing to a ‘senior’ minister', which is meaningless.

Thus, for the first time in 30 years Taib’s cabinet has only one deputy chief minister. In 1980s, there used to be three deputy chief ministers from SUPP, PBB and PBDS. When PBDS left the coalition in 1987, it had only two DCMs until the last cabinet reshuffle.

Looking at the whole cabinet 2011, both Mawan’s ministry has been reduced from Social Development and Urbanisation to only Social Development. Like Mawan, Masing retained his Land Development Ministry which has little power and even has no budget allocation.

Taib gave powerful ministries to his own men: Awang Tengah Ali Hassan was assigned Second Resource Planning and Environment Minister, Industrial Development Minister and Public Utilities Minister; Abang Johari Tun Openg was given the ministries of Tourism and Housing; Adenan Satem was made the Minister in the chief Minister’s office and the Minister with special functions.

Even assistant ministers from PBB are powerful than Mawan and Masing. The newly elected assemblyman Len Talif Salleh was appointed assistant minister of Environment, and assistant minister in the Chief Minister’s Office in charge of promotion of technical education;  Naroden Majais, assistant minister of Resource Planning and assistant minister of Bumiputera Entrepreneur Development; and Julaihi Narawi, assistant minister of rural Development and assistant minster of Industrial Development (Investment and Promotion).

Another interesting feature of the 2011 was the never-ending internal feuds in SPDP which were carried forward from January 2010, cultimated in the expulsion of Sylvester Entri, a leader of the rebel group known as the SPDP 5 or G5 (group of 5) and the stripping off of four other members of the group from their respective posts in the party.

Entri walked out in protest against the decision of the SPDP leadership to replace him as Secretary General in January 2010 and he was followed by seven other supreme council members including four elected representatives.

The four representatives comprised Peter Nansian, Senior Vice President (Tasik Biru Assemblyman), Dr. Tiki Lafe, vice-president (MP for Mas Gading), Rosey Yunus, Vice-President (Bekenu assemblywoman), and Paulus Gumbang, Information Chief (Batu Danau Assemblyman).

And since then the G5 refused to attend supreme council meetings or any other functions organised by the party.

The internal feuds had one way or the other contributed to the loss of SPDP seats of Krian which was held by its Deputy President Peter Nyarok and Ba’Kelalan previously held by the party’s Secretary General Nelson Balang Rining in the April election.

If the bickering continues into 2012, it is expected to undermine SPDP’s chances in four parliamentary seats – Mas Gading, Saratok, Baram and Bintulu – as the rebels are also putting candidates in these constituencies.

Although they are no longer SPDP members, they insist they are still members of Barisan Nasional under which tickets they had contested and will contest in future elections.

If Barisan Nasional leadership accepts them as direct members of Barisan Nasional which was registered as a political party in January 1974, then nothing SPDP can do.

Likewise, Wong Soon Koh and other six elected representatives may also join BN as its direct members if they cannot reconcile with Peter Chin, and his team.

If this is to happen, then more problems are expected between SPDP and SUPP with the Barisan Nasional. They can choose to be strong and protest or just toe the line. Most likely they (SPDP and SUPP) will suffer.

Another highlight of 2011 was the revelation of the alleged accumulated wealth of Chief Minister and his family members. Nobody really knows the amount of their wealth. But it is said to be tens of billions of ringgit.

From 14 companies alone, they are alleged to have accumulated RM4.6 billion.

According to a letter submitted by the international and Malaysian non-governmental organisations to the Malaysian authorities including Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, Taib and his family members have interest in 332 Malaysian and 85 foreign companies.

Several reports have been lodged with the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, but so far no news of the investigations has been revealed.

Sarawak DAP has also disclosed that certain prime state land have been alienated to Taib’s family members’ companies at very cheap prices.

It is expected that Taib’s alleged corruption, abuse of power, land grabbing of native customary rights land will continue be issues in the coming election.

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