Anwar Ibrahim has made far too many mistakes in the two states.
COMMENTPETALING JAYA: No matter how one looks at the political situation in Sabah and Sarawak, PKR risks irrelevance there. Its continuing spin on Pakatan Rakyat’s agenda for change and reform will never work in the two states because it excludes the Borneo Agenda.
Sabah and Sarawak do not fit into the “Malay, Chinese, Indian” mould of Peninsular Malaysia. (Read “natives” for “Indians” for the two states.) Neither are the Sabah and Sarawak natives like the unfortunate Orang Asli of Peninsular Malaysia. They cannot be wished away from the political mainstream.
Newly appointed Sabah PKR chief Pajudin Nordin’s departure from the party to sign up with Umno tells it all.
Pajudin, in a harsh statement, expressed disappointment in de facto party chief Anwar Ibrahim and the latter’s wife and party president Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail. He accused Anwar, in particular, of “making fools of Sabahans” and “not serious” about handling issues in the state.
Ironically, Pajudin was picked for the post by Anwar himself over the strenuous objections of the overwhelming majority of the 26 division chiefs in Sabah and Labuan. They felt that Pajudin’s appointment would be against the seniority ranking in the Sabah chapter. Besides, it raised issues of breach of protocol.
Kota Kinabalu division chief Christina Liew tried to reason with Anwar during the party’s pre-Chinese New Year supreme council meet in Kuala Lumpur. She suggested that Wan Azizah take over as the Sabah chief until the general election.
Anwar, reportedly, was adamantly against his wife taking over. He pointed out that there were many factions in Sabah PKR, a point which Liew conceded. Still, that did not explain why the state chief could not be elected by peers or, failing that, why the party president could not hold the post temporarily.
Anwar himself was Sabah PKR chief for two months in 2009 before handing the job over to then vice-president Azmin Ali who had to leave, also after two months, under somewhat unhappy circumstances. To add insult to injury, Azmin was accused of flogging Ketuanan Melayu in Sabah, where only the illegal immigrants with MyKads are classified as Malays.
Again, as in late 2010, Anwar could have defused the crisis in Sabah in late 2009 by allowing the divisions chiefs to elect their own leader. Instead, Jeffrey Kitingan’s election was rejected by Anwar – “no way in hell will I have Jeffrey Kitingan, a Christian, as the party chief in Sabah” – and Libaran division chief Ahmad Thamrin Jaini was appointed instead as the state chief.
The so-called Sabah peace plan that was drawn up by four party stalwarts – Tian Chua, Chua Jui Meng, David Yeoh and Michael Bong – managed to buy some time for the party by getting Jeffrey to accept the rejection of his quit letter and winning Thamrin an uneasy peace.
Save for Liew’s appointment as state deputy chief, the rest of the Sabah peace plan was never honoured by Anwar himself. This was one reason why Jeffrey recently quit the party for the second time.
Pajudin was the same mistake that Anwar made with Thamrin. The difference is that Anwar can no longer flog another peace plan in the state after having reneged on the one in late 2009.
There was no alternative, late last month, but for the party headquarters to ask Pajudin to relinquish his post. Anyone in the newly appointed state chief’s position would have felt utterly small and humiliated. So, he struck back in the only way that he could – defect to Umno and, in the process, dredge up PKR’s unsavoury past in Sabah.
PKR is living on borrowed time in Sabah and Sarawak. This issue must be considered seriously by DAP and PAS, PKR’s allies in the opposition alliance, along with SNAP.
Already, former Pakatan co-ordinator Zaid Ibrahim’s Kita is poised to open local chapters in the two Borneo states. Zaid himself is reportedly not in favour of the move but he has apparently confessed to members of his inner circle that he cannot stop those who want the party to have a presence in Sabah and Sarawak.
Nevertheless, he has since pledged that Kita in Sabah and Sarawak will be completely independent of the party in Peninsular Malaysia. All three chapters of the party will make common cause in a Barisan Kita, which will work with other Third Force components on both sides of the South China Sea.
Kita’s presence in Sabah and Sarawak is likely to cost PKR the Muslim votes. In Sarawak, SNAP has broken ranks with Pakatan and is bent on fielding candidates in all 28 Dayak state seats. The party sees no reason why any of these seats should go to PKR, DAP or PAS.
Jeffrey, who has parked himself meanwhile at the United Borneo Front (UBF), an NGO, is torn between taking over Setia in Sabah or the Borneo Alliance Party (BAP) in Sarawak. An answer should come soon enough after Chap Goh Meh.
The launch of a political wing for UBF will signal an exodus of the Dusuns and Chinese, in particular, from PKR. If Jeffrey’s new political vehicle is Borneo-based, he may attract his supporters in Sarawak as well at the expense of PKR.
If PKR wants to have a fighting chance in Sabah and Sarawak, the party headquarters and Anwar, in particular, must stop micro-managing the affairs of the local chapters.
Most of PKR’s troubles in Sabah and Sarawak are the result of Anwar making decisions on the basis of reports from his known proxies in the two states. He sees no need to keep the doors open, give a hearing to all and keep the lines of communication open.
If the state chapters in Sabah and Sarawak can be hived off as independent entities, so much the better. Alternatively, Anwar must not hinder the division chiefs from electing their own state chiefs.
Above all, Pakatan’s agenda for change and reform in Malaysia must embrace the Borneo Agenda. Otherwise, it risks being a fish out of water in Sabah and Sarawak.