Here's something interesting I found in Malaysiakini from our Borneo sage and political veteran Sim Kwang Yang. I recommend it to our Sarawakian bansa orang-orang and all those great supporters who love our fair land Sarawak.
Pray that Umno will not come to Sarawak
Sim Kwang Yang
Sep 29, 07 12:06pm
SIM KWANG YANG was DAP MP for Bandar Kuching in Sarawak 1982-1995. Since retiring in 1995, he has become a freelance writer in the Chinese-language press, and taught philosophy in a local college for three years.
He is now working with an NGO in Kuala Lumpur, the Omnicron Learning Circle, which is aimed at continuing learning for working adults and college students. Suggestions and feedback can reach him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
'An Examined Life' appears in Malaysiakini every Saturday.
Sarawak is the only state in Malaysia where Umno has not established any presence. Within Sarawak itself, the talk is not so much if, but when Umno will make a grand entry, as it did in Sabah.
Now, the conditions seem riper than ever before for Umno’s foray into that vast eastern state on the northern shores of the Borneo Island, as Sarawak is on the verge of plunging into a leadership vacuum.
The Chief Minister of Sarawak, Abdul Taib Mahmud, has been in power for slightly more than a quarter of a century in that resource rich territory. (Pardon me for mentioning him by name. His string of titles is too long to be cited in full for a column of limited length like mine.)
But Taib is in his 70s, and rumours of his ailing health have been rife like wildfire in Kuching. I have heard various versions of his struggle with his cancer problem within some part of his internal anatomy, but like a good Sarawakian, I will not spread the rumour further.
He had three front-runners for successors within his party, the PBB earlier on: Abang Johari, Adenan Satem and Effendi Norwawi. All three seem to have fallen out of his favour since then. He has yet to name an alternative candidate for party president and Sarawak CM. There is also nobody in sight who is more powerful, more charismatic, or more senior than the above mentioned three veteran politicians.
Here, the unique ethnic composition of Sarawak enters into the power equation. Since 1970, when Abdul Rahman Yakub (left) returned from his federal Cabinet position to Kuching, to assume the exalted office of the CM, it has always been silently understood that the highest political office in the state must be a Melanau, the ethnic community to which both Rahman and his nephew-successor Taib belong.
The Melanau people make up about 5% only of the state’s population. Roughly half of them are Christians, and the other half are Muslims. They are mostly confined to the lower reaches of the Rejang Basin and along the neighbouring coast.
This racial sub-plot may be a moot point with political commentators from KL, but in Sarawak, it has sent off a ripple of undercurrent within the PBB. During past party elections, Malay leaders in PBB had quietly jostled for votes and party positions on the platform of restoring a Malay CM eventually in Sarawak. So far, they have not really succeeded.
One such past party senior leader, Abang Abu Bakar, left the PBB and tried to campaign for the entry of Umno into Sarawak, without avail. I count Abang Abu as my good friend and a good man, and am sad that he has since disappeared into the political wilderness.
All kinds of speculations run through the Sarawak grapevine of course. One version has it that the former PM and former Umno president Dr Mahathir Mohamad had reached an agreement with Taib in the 90s that as long as Taib is the Sarawak CM, Umno will leave Sarawak entirely in his charge.
(I have also heard that this agreement has expired recently, and we do have a new PM and a new Umno president. One has to wonder about the authenticity of any report of such secret deals. It is meant to be secret, so how did it reach the grapevine? But then, the logic of such a deal does make a great deal of sense. Taib does have a lot of chips to play with, because he can deliver a big block of parliamentary seats to the Umno PM to shore up his position in national politics.)
Suppose we accept this scenario at its face value. Taib is bound to orchestrate his gracious and secure exit from Sarawak politics sooner rather than later. Powerful or meek, rich or poor, all men are subject to the immutable natural law of ageing and dying. This is really the time for him to settle the succession problem. That he has not done so does not bode well for the future of Sarawak.
His problem is typical of all political strongman of course. Having consolidating his position of absolute leadership within the BN and his own PBB by a long process of divide and rule, he has ensured nobody is strong enough to challenge him. In the end, nobody is strong enough to replace him once he is compelled by nature to retire, in one way or another.
Anything is therefore possible in the post-Taib era.
Should there be a factional fight within the PBB, it will affect the stability of the entire state BN. There could be a realignment of political tectonic plates in Sarawak, and the new CM may be weakened. The obvious way out for some Sarawak Malay leaders may just be that: get Umno to enter Sarawak. A kind of political crisis could be easily created to engineer the need for Umno.
There are many reasons why it is advantageous for Umno to gain direct control of the last “free” state in Malaysia. That would deserve some attention elsewhere.
There are also obvious obstacles. For one thing, the PBB is composed of a dominant Malay/Muslim wing, and a Dayak Pesaka wing. The Pesaka wing is crucial to the dominant position of the PBB within the Sarawak BN and the state government.
After all, the Malays/Muslims comprise only a quarter of the state’s total population, while the Dayaks make up over 40%. It would be next to impossible for a Malay/Melanau CM to hold office for long without this crucial strategic alliance between the Malays/Muslims and the Dayaks.. With the inclusion of the Dayak wing, the BN was able to fight off any Dayak nationalist challenge from the opposition, such as the one mounted by PBDS in the late 80's and early 90's.
If Umno were to enter Sarawak, how they would accommodate the Dayak chunk of the party will be an ambiguous area, which the Umno has never been very good at. It would be next to impossible for Umno to admit Dayaks as full members, for that will dilute the Umno ideology of purist Malay nationalism.
Unique distinctive traits
For another, the brazen near-racist political style of Umno would be quite alien to Sarawakians, even to the Malays in Sarawak.
I am not sure if the Malays in my home state are of the same stock as the Malays elsewhere, but culturally and socially, they have very unique distinctive traits shaped by a different historical path. Memories of the Malacca Sultanate and the rise and fall of the Peninsular Sultans over the past centuries would be quite irrelevant to the Sarawak Malays. They were ruled by the Sultan of Brunei for centuries until the arrival of James Brooke (below) in the later half of the 19th century. The grand Malay nationalist narrative that works so well in KL may not tally well with those Malays over the other side of the ocean.
The Malays in Sarawak even speaks a kind of dialect which will be largely unintelligible to Malays coming from West Malaysia for the first time! Outside official and business circles, at the levels of personal and social interaction, the official version of Bahasa Malaysia so beloved by the people in charge of RTM would sound like a foreign language! Ironically, integration in Sarawak has been achieved partly by the mastery of this Sarawak Malay dialect by people of other ethnic origins!
For example, the Sarawak Malay word for a cockroach is lipih, and it signifies all that is bad about an insect that steals food in the night. It is the dishonourable word bestowed by Sarawak Malays on the West Malaysian Malay soldiers posted to this eastern state to ensure the territorial integrity of Malaysia. In past decades, there have been rare but rather violent clashes between some of these soldiers and the local Malay community over the soldiers’ dating habits.
The Malays in Sarawak are certainly very devout Muslims, but for some strange reasons, they have been spared the radicalisation of political Islam that began in the Peninsula in the 70s and the 80s. PAS has tried several times to establish a foothold in Sarawak, without any apparent success. The sort of religious issues that have divided the races in West Malaysia is not likely to trouble Sarawakians much.
This is what sets the Sarawak Malays apart from Malays elsewhere. They have no problem with making personal friends with members of other ethnic communities. Interethnic marriages are quite common. No leader of the PBB will dream of waving the keris during any party general assembly! I suspect the educated Malay elite in Sarawak feel as much Malay as they feel they are Sarawakians! I know so.
I am incurably partisan, naturally. The entry of Umno in a big way into Sarawak will only corrupt the Sarawakian soul, what with their irrational demand for petty racial loyalty, their massive corruption, and their belittling of the trans-cultural convivial celebration of our common humanity.
My prayers will be that Umno will never come to Sarawak, and if they do, they will be rejected en masse!