Monday, January 26, 2009

Happy Lunar New Year 2009


Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Malayanisation Of Sarawak - A Malayan Wayang Kulit

Turbulent times in Sarawak: the end of expatriate influence and the struggle for power over and within the state

Borneo Research Bulletin, Annual, 2004 by Vernon L. Porritt

Expatriate influence in the Sarawak State Government came to an abrupt end on 30 July 1966. This was some three years after Sarawak became part of the Federation of Malaysia. Prior to becoming part of Malaysia, Sarawak had been a British colony (1946-1963), an independent state under the Brookes (1841-1946) although occupied by the Japanese (1942-1945) during the Second World War, and before 1841 part of the Brunei Sultanate. The end of expatriate influence in 1966 was the outcome of an ongoing struggle for power over and within the state played out with all the inevitability of a pre-scripted Wayang Kulit from the moment Sarawak became a state in the Federation of Malaysia on 16 September 1963.

The first elected Chief Minister was Stephen Kalong Ningkan, a forty-three year old Iban from Betong who was selected by the Sarawak Alliance which was comprised at the time of four political parties.(1) Although the Sarawak Alliance only received thirty-four percent in the first round of voting in the mid-1963 three-tier elections, very adroit political maneuvering secured over two-thirds of the seats in the Council Negri (Legislature), which enabled the Alliance to form the Supreme Council (Cabinet/Government). The Sarawak Alliance was made up of the pro-Malaysia Barisan Ra'ayat Jati Sarawak (Berjasa) headed by Tuanku Bujang, a high ranking Sibu Malay; Party Pesaka Anak Sarawak (Pesaka) headed by a Third Division Iban leader, Temenggong Jugah; the Sarawak Chinese Association (SCA) headed by a Sibu Chinese businessman, Ling Being Siew; and the Sarawak National Party (SNAP) headed by Ningkan. Collectively the socialist and predominantly Chinese Sarawak United People's Party (SUPP) with Stephen Yong Kuet Yze as secretary general and Party Negara Sarawak (PANAS) with Abang Haji Mustapha as chairman secured 1.5 percent more primary votes in the elections than the Sarawak Alliance, but were consigned to the opposition.

Prior to the formation of Malaysia, Tunku Abdul Rahman had shown his willingness to intervene in Sarawak politics by announcing that he only supported the pro-Malaysia Sarawak Alliance.(2) Also the Sarawak Alliance had sought and was given help by the ruling Malayan Alliance in conducting its campaign during the 1963 elections. During this period the ruling Malayan Alliance leaders established strong links with the prominent Berjasa member Abdul Rahman Ya'kub, a pro-Malaysia, thirty-five year old Muslim Melanau from Mukah. A UK trained lawyer, Ya'kub was the Deputy Public Prosecutor in the Sarawak Legal Department from 1959 to 1963. He had ethnic, political, and religious empathy with the Malayan Alliance leaders, who supported an unsuccessful attempt to secure his nomination as Sarawak's first Chief Minister (Leigh 1974: 83). Showing the high regard in which United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) leaders held Ya'kub, he was appointed an executive member of UMNO Malaya on 16 May 1965 in the midst of the Land Bill crisis in Sarawak. He became a key player in molding the politics of Sarawak in the UMNO image.

The first dramatic scene in this epic was set just prior to the formation of Malaysia, when a controversy erupted between the Malayan and Sarawak governments over who would be the first governor of Sarawak as a state within the Federation of Malaysia. The Sarawak Alliance, in which the Dayaks were predominant, nominated an Iban, Pesaka leader Temenggong Jugah, for governor.(3) However, the Tunku rejected this nomination and, supported by PANAS, insisted on the appointment of a Malay.(4) But Party Pesaka represented over thirty percent of the Sarawak Alliance's strength in terms of elected district councillors and had forfeited any representation on the Supreme Council in exchange for nomination of the party's leader as governor. Rejection of their leader aroused strong resentment among Party Pesaka members, compounded by their lack of representation in the Supreme Council (Leigh 1974: 78-79). To appease Jugah and Pesaka members, mainly the Third Division Ibans, the Federal Government created for Jugah the post of Federal Minister for Sarawak Affairs (Porritt 1997: 104). Abang Haji Openg, a prominent Malay aristocrat and civil servant, was duly appointed Governor. With the appointment of a Malay head of state paralleling the Malay Sultans in Peninsular Malaysia, the molding of Sarawak in the UMNO-led Malayan Alliance image had begun.

Another key player pertinent to this saga was introduced on 22 July 1963 when Ningkan formed Sarawak's first elected government. This was Abdul Taib bin Mahmud, a 27-year old Australian-trained lawyer who was the nephew of Ya'kub. Taib had joined the Sarawak Government's Legal Department in early 1962. He was not a contestant in the 1963 elections nor had he been involved in any political activity prior to the formation of Sarawak's first elected government.(5) However, under an agreement between the member parties of the Sarawak Alliance, Berjasa was entitled to nominate two members as State Ministers. On the recommendation of his uncle, Taib was nominated and duly appointed as a State Minister in the Ningkan government. Like his uncle, Taib had ethnic, political, and religious empathy with ruling Malayan politicians and is said to have envisaged Sarawak politics as re-structured on the Malayan pattern of "a dominant Islamic-led native party, with a more or less subservient Chinese partner" (Leigh 1974: 87). "Islamic-led" in this context translated into the Malay and the majority of the Melanau people as they were the only significant Muslim native ethnic groups in Sarawak.

Thus, all the elements to mold Sarawak in the UMNO-led Malayan Alliance image were already in place when Malaysia was formed. Ya'kub had not been successful in the local council elections, the first stage in the three-tier election system to the Council Negri, but as a Berjasa leader was nominated to the Federal Parliament.(6) He was then made the Assistant Minister for Justice and Rural Development in the Federal Government, providing a strong link between the top federal government leaders and the Sarawak body politic through his nephew Taib, who was appointed State Minister for Works and Communications. Ya'kub, Taib, the Tunku, and UMNO shared a common vision for the future of Sarawak's politics. A setback occurred in the latter part of 1965 when UMNO leaders decided to open a branch in Sarawak to unite the Sarawak Malays, who were then divided between Berjasa and PANAS. However this was not successful, serving only to annoy Chief Minister Ningkan as one more sign of federal interference in local politics.(7)

What was seen as the next opportunity to further the UMNO image for Sarawak occurred when three land bills were to be introduced in the Council Negri in 1965. These were the outcome of the report of a land committee set up in mid 1962 "to make recommendations as to the measures necessary to ensure the best use of land in the national interest."(8) The government accepted most of the recommendations and the first of note, free issue of title to land held under Native Customary Rights (NCR), was covered in a Land Code (Amendment) Bill passed in the Council Negri in early December 1963. Another three bills on establishing ownership, protecting NCR holdings, and how the government could acquire and pay compensation for NCR land, were published for public discussion in February 1964. The underlying aim of these bills was to free land held under Native Customary Rights (NCR) for large-scale plantation crops and intensive agriculture by landless Chinese farmers. At the same time, the bills attempted to incorporate safeguards protecting native interests. Freeing land for economic development and use by landless Chinese farmers was considered important in combatting communism. Thus the bills would enable the Ningkan government to pursue its solutions to resolving the communist problem then threatening the state.(9) Considerable publicity was given to the bills in the press and in question-and-answer sessions over the radio, with no indication that the bills would suddenly become an explosive issue.

The bills were to be tabled at a Council Negri meeting on 11 March 1965, but this was postponed to 11 May to amend provisions of the Land (Native Dealings) Bill in response to "certain representations." On 10 May, PANAS, Pesaka, and Berjasa formed the Sarawak Native Alliance, with Temenggong Jugah (Pesaka) as President and Abdul Taib (Berjasa) and Thomas Kana (Pesaka) as Joint Secretaries. The SCA and the SUPP, both predominantly Chinese, were automatically excluded, together with Ningkan's party, SNAP, as the vice-chairman of SNAP, James Wong, was Chinese. At the same time, the President of the Barisan Pemuda Sarawak, Haji Su'ut bin Tahir, issued a statement opposing the Land Bills.(10) On the morning of the Council Negri meeting, Berjasa and Pesaka submitted letters of withdrawal from the Sarawak Alliance, placing the Land Bills and the government in jeopardy. As the Sarawak Native Alliance (Berjasa, Pesaka, and PANAS) held twenty-two seats in the thirty-nine seat Council Negri, the government was in danger of losing office. However, prior intelligence and very quick thinking avoided the potential collapse of the SNAP-led Ningkan government by last minute withdrawal of the Land Bills in the Council Negri on 11 May. Officially the bills were withdrawn due to strong opposition from the Malay and Dayak communities and the public was unaware that Pesaka and Berjasa had resigned from the Sarawak Alliance.

Overthrow of a government led by a Second Division Iban by a group headed by a Third Division Iban would have divided the Iban community and exacerbated the historical differences between the Second and Third Division Ibans, with unpredictable consequences for internal and external security at a very critical time.(11) This was serious as the Ibans made up over thirty percent of Sarawak's 800,000 population and seventy percent of the Dayak population. Further, the Dayaks had not been over-enthusiastic supporters of the Malaysia concept and a perception of federal involvement in local politics would fuel anti-Malaysia feelings. Thus, Dayak support in fighting Indonesian armed confrontation and hence its allies, the Sarawak communists, would be at risk. Virtually all the personnel of the Sarawak armed services, the Field Force and the Border Scouts, were Dayaks. By 1965 Indonesia had amassed nine battalions in West Kalimantan alone, with the defense of all the Borneo states in the hands of three British and Commonwealth Brigades and one Malaysian Brigade supported by a British battalion (Denis and Grey 1996: 254). The Dayak people were playing an essential part in the defense of Sarawak by providing essential intelligence on armed Indonesian intrusions along the 1,000-kilometer border with Kalimantan and on the movements of Sarawak communist guerrillas. Faced with this potentially disastrous situation, Ningkan and his principal advisers, who had already averted the immediate collapse of his government by withdrawing the land bills, had to move very quickly. The principal advisers were Ting Tung Ming, Tony Shaw, and John Pike (Leigh 1974: 83). (12)

Ting Tung Ming, a Sibu Foochow and SCA party member, was Ningkan's Political Secretary and a very close confidante. Tony Shaw, the forty-eight year old, Cambridge educated, expatriate State Secretary, had served in Sarawak since 1948. John Pike, a thirty-nine year old, Oxford educated expatriate who had joined the Sarawak Civil Service in 1949 was the Financial State Secretary. To prevent the government's collapse and retain Dayak unity, Pesaka (11 Council Negri seats) had to be persuaded to rejoin the Alliance. Further, to give a comfortable working majority, either Berjasa (six Council Negri seats) or PANAS (five Council Negri seats), had to be induced to rejoin the Sarawak Alliance. For bargaining purposes to this end, John Pike suggested removing the three ex-officio expatriates from the Supreme Council, namely Tony Shaw, John Pike and the Attorney-General Phillip Pike, to enable three new ministries to be created and filled by local politicians. The Supreme Council immediately accepted this plan. Working against an impossibly tight schedule, by the next day, 12 May, a Constitution Amendment Bill removing the three ex-officio members from the Supreme Council had been prepared and was tabled in the Council Negri. The bill was passed a day later, but not without some questioning in view of the speed with which it had been introduced.

The alliance between Pesaka and Berjasa appeared to collapse immediately after the Land Bill was withdrawn on 11 May, as Pesaka withdrew its resignation from the Sarawak Alliance on the same day in writing. Two days later, Ningkan publicly hinted that the Sarawak Alliance would appoint two ministries from Pesaka and one from PANAS.(13) This addressed Pesaka concerns over having no seats in the Supreme Council and hence no voice in the government, although it was the major party in the Sarawak Alliance with more seats than any other party in the Council Negri. On 16 May Ningkan announced that Berjasa's resignation from the Sarawak Alliance had been accepted and that Berjasa members Abdul Taib and Awang Hipni would have to give up their state ministerial posts. Although not stated, Berjasa nominee Federal Minister Ya'kub would also be affected. Ya'kub countered by claiming that Berjasa's resignation had been withdrawn by telephone as soon as the land bills were withdrawn and publicly blamed the Sarawak Deputy Prime Minister, James Wong and his "expatriate bosses" for Ningkan's "decision to drop Berjasa from the [Sarawak] Alliance."(14) Ironically, this would have averted the second part of this crisis completely, but Ningkan denied having received any such telephone call. Several days of rather frenetic and confused inter-party negotiations followed, with Berjasa seeking to restore its position through the Sarawak Native Alliance, which had a commanding twenty-two seats in the Council Negri.

A perceptive T. C. Lim wrote to the Sarawak Tribune asking if this were "the right time to topple the state government when our enemies at the gate [Indonesia] are waiting to over-run us" and said that "those who have taken the advantage of splitting the Ibans living in the Second and Third Divisions because of their past conflicts must be very short-sighted indeed."(15) On 18 May four Pesaka leaders were in Kuala Lumpur, having been summoned by Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Tun Razak, where they joined Berjasa leaders Ya'kub and Yaib. Ningkan was also scheduled to fly there on 18 May to discuss the crisis with the Tunku and Razak. However, when he "was told he was to visit Kuala Lumpur to attend a round table conference, arranged by the Prime Minister and his Deputy, Tun Razak, to solve the Sarawak crisis," he declined to go, later saying that the "Sarawak crisis must be settled in Sarawak."(16) Instead, Ningkan elected to attend a meeting with Pesaka leaders in Sibu on 21 May at the invitation of Jugah. During the talks Jugah withdrew his support for the proposed Sarawak Native Alliance and declared that he backed the Chief Minister's government and party "all the way."(17) Ningkan informed Tun Razak of their decision to allow Berjasa and PANAS to submit formal applications to rejoin the Sarawak Alliance and their applications were duly accepted.

Ya'kub retained his Federal Ministry; Abdul Taib and Awang Hipni were reinstated; Abang Othman (PANAS) was appointed Minister of Social Welfare, Youth, and Culture; and Tajang Laing and Francis Umpau (both members of Pesaka) were appointed Ministers of State. By mid June, Ningkan's willingness to compromise for the sake of national unity and the gambit of creating three new ministries by removing the expatriate presence in the Supreme Council had removed the immediate threat to the Ningkan government. But the endplay for the Ningkan government was only a year away.

Direct expatriate influence in the Supreme Council had been removed, but three expatriates were still Council Negri members and advisers to Ningkan in their respective roles. Phillip Pike, the Attorney General, took the oath of office of Chief Justice in September, a local officer, Tan Chiaw Tong, taking over as Acting Attorney-General. This left only two expatriate officers in the Council Negri, Tony Shaw and John Pike, who, together with Phillip Pike were awarded the Honorary Panglima Bintang Sarawak with the title of Dato on 3 October 1965, the Governor's birthday. Orderly plans for the replacement of both Tony Shaw and John Pike by local officers when their contracts expired on 31 August 1967 were already in place. Gerunsin Lembat was appointed Deputy State Secretary on 15 May 1965 and T'en Kuen Foh served as Under Secretary (Finance) from time to time.(18) As Ningkan explained in April 1966, "we have men ready for all the top posts ... if I am able to obtain 100% support from the Federal government in giving away money, then I can ... let them go with compensation."(19) On 16 May 1966, T'en Kuen Foh was appointed Acting Financial Secretary when John Pike left on overseas leave. By then the security situation had improved dramatically with the threat of armed incursions by Indonesian troops removed at the end of May when Indonesian Confrontation officially ended. Also, the Indonesians had embarked on an anti-communist purge throughout Indonesia and together with the Malaysian Government were intent on wiping out Sarawak communist insurgents operating from safe havens in Kalimantan. Further, resettlement of 8,000 Chinese in guarded settlements in the First Division of Sarawak during the second half of 1965 had reduced the communist threat to internal security considerably.(20) Reflecting the improved security situation, agreement was about to be reached on the complete withdrawal of British troops from Sarawak and Sabah (North Borneo). On the political front however, there was still unfinished business.

In a rerun with variations of the 1965 incident, on 12 June 1966 Ningkan dismissed his Minister for Communication and Works, Abdul Taib, saying that he had lost confidence in him. When announcing this, Ningkan spoke of a rebel group in the Sarawak Alliance that was plotting to topple the government. Pesaka Secretary-General Thomas Kana immediately confirmed this by saying his party had lost confidence in Ningkan and therefore Jugah had invited Ningkan to resign. Further, Kana advised that twenty Council Negri Council members would boycott the Council Negri meeting on 14 June. The Governor, Tun Abang Haji Openg, together with Jugah, Taib (who disclaimed all knowledge of any rebel group), and other dissident political leaders left for Kuala Lumpur the day before the Council Negri meeting. According to a correspondent with the Sarawak Tribune, "the man in the street is saying that ... Taib is determined to make a comeback."(21) On the day of the Council Negri meeting, the Tunku announced in Kuala Lumpur that he had received a letter from a majority of the Council Negri members demanding the resignation of Ningkan. In turn, the Tunku called on Ningkan to resign immediately, adding that charges against him would not be revealed if he did so. Predictably, as the accepted procedure was a vote of no confidence in the Council Negri, Ningkan refused to resign. The Council Negri meeting in Kuching was attended by 21 members, consisting of one Independent, one Machinda (a new political party), two PANAS, three SCA, five SUPP, six SNAP, and three ex-officio members, two of whom were expatriates, technically a majority. Undeterred, on the next day the Malaysian Alliance National Council in Kuala Lumpur nominated Penghulu Tawi Sli, a Second Division Iban, as Chief Minister.

Alastair Morrison, the expatriate Information Officer, later wrote that Ningkan's "style offended many ... Native members of the Alliance felt that he was too closely linked to Chinese business interests ... there were competing interests for timber licences" and "his personal conduct continued to give offence" (Morrison 1993: 170-173). Morrison wrote of dishonesty, corruption, and jealousy, also commenting that Ningkan was "much harmed" by his suggestion that the Federal Government should consider deferring the date for introducing Malay as the official language in Peninsular Malaysia from 1967 to 1973, to accord with the minimum ten-year period from Malaysia Day agreed for Sarawak. According to Morrison there were federal fears that "some of the dissidents might well have been induced to change their minds" if the issue was debated in Kuching. Thus any charges against Ningkan remained untested, as established constitutional procedures of a no confidence vote in the Council Negri were not followed. This reflected the inevitability of Ningkan's removal from office in the ongoing struggle for power within the state when supported by an alienated federal government.

A high-powered delegation of the National Alliance Executive Council headed by Home Affairs Minister Tun Ismail, accompanied by Jugah, Taib, and other members of Berjasa and Pesaka, flew to Kuching from Kuala Lumpur on 16 June. Underlining Morrison's comments, all members were sequestered from external influences by being housed with their leaders overnight. On the next day the Governor declared that Ningkan and all Supreme Council members ceased to hold office and appointed Tawi Sli as Chief Minister. At the same time Tun Ismail issued lengthy statements claiming that the Governor's actions were constitutional and admonished the local press for accusing the National Alliance of acting unconstitutionally.

Completing the replacement of the Ningkan government, on 22 June Tawi Sli appointed five members of his new Supreme Council; Taib and Hipni (Berjasa), Umpau and Laing (Pesaka), and Abang Haji Adbulrahman (PANAS). Two months later two SCA nominees, Teo Kui Seng and Ling Beng Siong, were added to the Supreme Council, while Taib became the Minister of Development and Forestry and Deputy Chief Minister. Although there was some dissention, PANAS recognized the new political reality and decided to support the Tawi Sli government, but SNAP withdrew from the Sarawak Alliance. Ya'kub had retained his Federal Ministry and Taib, Abdulrahman, and Kana became the inner circle of advisers to the Chief Minister. As Leigh wrote, "the Sarawak Alliance had been restructured, and more closely resembled the Malayan Alliance, both in policy and composition" (1974: 107). The Wayang Kulit still had three acts to run: whether quick action would be taken to remove the two remaining expatriate members of Council Negri, Tony Shaw and John Pike, the legality of Ningkan's dismissal, and completing the Tunku-Ya'kub-Taib vision for Sarawak politics based on the Federal UNMO-led Alliance model.

Under the terms of the London Agreement, Tony Shaw, John Pike, and a number of other expatriates in the Sarawak Administrative Service had agreed to serve the Sarawak Government up to 31 August 1967, that is, four years from the intended date of the formation of Malaysia. However, there was constant political and union pressure to replace all expatriate personnel in government and quasi-government organizations more quickly. For instance, with an understandable vested interest in freeing posts for promotion of local officers, the Sarawak Government Asian Officers Union (SGAOU) wrote to the Chief Minister in June 1965 seeking speedier replacement of expatriate officers. SAGOU pointed out that their services could be dispensed with by paying compensation and claimed that retaining expatriates in administrative posts "tended to discredit the position of the country in the eyes of the outside world."(22)

Pressure also emanated from the highest levels, the Tunku echoing SAGOU's comments nine months later by saying that Sarawak still had an administration that was colonial in nature.(23) Some saw the expatriate officers as an obstacle to a closer integration of Sarawak within Malaysia due to their insistence on compliance with every detail of the Inter-Governmental Agreement intended to protect Sarawak's interests upon becoming a state within the Federation of Malaysia. Others saw the expatriates as obstacles to their own careers. Further, Tony Shaw and John Pike had been close and trusted advisers to Ningkan, leading to some resentment from some State Ministers and politicians who felt that their roles had been usurped. On 27 July, six weeks after the Ningkan government had been overturned, Tawi Sli spoke of a need for "an independent country to be administered by its own local officers" and Shaw was given ten days to leave the state.(24) This was clearly inadequate and Shaw resisted. The Chief Minister then announced on 30 July that Shaw would proceed on leave at the end of August prior to retirement. Shaw was paid out for the remainder of his contract, leaving shortly after a farewell lunch hosted by Tawi Sli on 26 August. Pike, who was then overseas on leave, was advised that there was no need to return to Sarawak and was similarly compensated.(25) Although some 300 expatriate officers still remained in government and quasi-government organizations, they were either on contract or with predetermined dates of departure. This enabled Acting Chief Minister Taib to announce all posts in the Sarawak Administrative Service would be held by local personnel by October 1967.(26) It is generally conceded that the abrupt departure of Shaw and Pike was not the initiative of Chief Minister Tawi Sli.

The two remaining acts of the Wayang Kulit were long and tedious and hence are much abbreviated here. Predictably, Ningkan appealed to the High Court against his dismissal, which was declared ultra vires in the High Court on 8 September, and both SNAP and SUPP immediately called for a general election. However, some not very serious threats to anti-Ningkan Council Negri members provided a very controversial rationale for declaration of a state of emergency by the Federal Government on 15 September. This in turn enabled the Federal Parliament to unilaterally amend the Constitution and give Sarawak's Governor the power to dismiss the state's Chief Minister, against a backdrop of Tawi Sli claiming some expatriates and foreigners were "going out of their way to assist Ningkan."(27) Ningkan was duly dismissed and Tawi Sli, together with his Supreme Council, were re-sworn in in their respective posts on 24 September. Ningkan duly petitioned against his dismissal and the declaration of emergency. After a series of appeals, in August 1968 the Privy Council finally rejected Ningkan's petition, on the grounds that his lawyers had failed to show that there was no state of emergency on 14 September 1966. This ended this episode, leaving only the Tunku-Ya'kub-Taib vision for Sarawak politics based on the Federal UNMO-led Alliance to be completed.

This came about due to an unlikely alliance of two political parties, SUPP and Parti Bumiputera, the outcome of the June 1970 elections. Parti Bumiputera, a merger of Berjasa and PANAS, was inaugurated on 25 March 1967 and finally united all the Sarawak Malays and Muslim Melanaus, thus ending a long-standing political division in those communities that had originated over cession in 1946. At the inauguration ceremony Tun Razak said that Sarawak must have a government that could cooperate with the Central Government if it were to achieve progress and development. The President of Parti Bumiputera was MP Abang Ikhwan Zainie and the Secretary General was Abdul Taib.(28) Also serving to unite the Muslims in Sarawak, in May 1968 the Angkatan Nahdatul Islam Bersatu (BINA) was formed, with Ya'kub as Chairman and Taib as Treasurer. SUPP, which had been in opposition since the formation of Malaysia, was invited to join a future coalition government by Tun Razak a month before the June 1970 elections. Election results announced on 4 July showed Parti Bumiputera had won twelve seats, Pesaka eight seats, and SCA three seats, giving the Sarawak Alliance twenty-three votes in the forty-eight seat Council Negri. Thus the Alliance could not form the government alone, leaving SUPP and SNAP with twelve seats each in a strong negotiating position, but with SNAP's position weakened by past differences with the Sarawak Alliance and having been led by the deposed Ningkan. A round of involved negotiations and shifting alliances between the various parties then began.

SUPP leaders astutely recognized federal preferences, and with Parti Bumiputera as an equal partner, formed the new government (Yong 1998: 194-199). Both parties signed a letter of understanding on the composition of the new State Government. This would comprise a nominee of Parti Bumiputera (Abdul Rahman Ya'kub) as the chief minister; two deputy chief ministers, one nominated by SUPP (Stephen Yong) and the other an elected Iban, Simon Dembak Maja (Pesaka); with the appointment of all other ministers and allocation of portfolios by joint decision of signatories Ya'kub and Yong. Thus the SCA, SUPP's political rival among the Chinese, could be excluded from the government. The Ibans had won twenty seats, but, unlike Parti Bumiputera, they had not reconciled past differences and were divided between two parties, with SNAP mainly representing Second Division Ibans and Pesaka mainly representing Third Division Ibans.(29) Thus the Ibans forfeited a commanding position in negotiations on who should form the government. On the other hand, with a Chief Minister who had ethnic, political, and religious empathy with the Malaysian Alliance leaders and the party representing the majority of the Chinese safely in the state coalition government, Sarawak politics had finally been molded in the UMNO-led Peninsular Malaysia Alliance image. And a family dynasty of state chief ministers that would last beyond the turn of the century had been established.

Biographical Appendix

* Stephen Kalong Ningkan

An Iban from Betong in the Second Division, Ningkan was born on 20 August 1920. The son of a farmer, he was adopted by his step-grandfather, a Chinese goldsmith, and spent a year in China in 1926, picking up some Cantonese. He went to St. Augustine's School in Betong, and matriculated by correspondence. He started his career as a clerk with the Rubber Fund (1938-1939) and was with the Sarawak Constabulary from 1940 to 1946, thus having secure employment during the Japanese occupation. After the Second World War, he became a teacher at his old school for three years. Following the Iban practice of bejalai, he traveled to Brunei where he became a hospital assistant in the Shell hospital from 1950 to 1961. In 1958 he founded the Brunei Dayak Association and in 1961 founded SNAP with a few other Iban employees of Shell. As a law student, he passed his first year. Just prior to Sarawak becoming part of Malaysia, Ningkan was selected by the Sarawak Alliance, which consisted of four political parties including SNAP, as Sarawak's first elected Chief Minister. The period of his tenure of office was difficult as the Sarawak government was facing the inevitable settling-in period with the Federal government, dealing with a communist insurgency, Indonesian Confrontation, and gradual replacement of expatriate personnel in the Sarawak Civil Service with local staff. His brother, a sergeant in the Constabulary was killed by the communists. He made some unwise decisions on his choice of friends and there is some evidence that he acted unwisely on occasion. Alastair Morrison, the Information Officer at the time, later wrote, "The Chief Minister ... became estranged from much Native opinion through his often autocratic behaviour" and "his personal conduct continued to give offence; his popularity and standing declined." Ningkan tended to attribute his downfall to his refusal to submit to Federal government pressure to make Malay the official language in Sarawak before 1973, the date laid down in the Inter-governmental Agreement. After being removed from office, he joined the Opposition in the Council Negri (1966-1974). Later he established his own business, dealing initially in cement. Ningkan died on 31 March 1997 and was honored by a state funeral three days later. Note: The quotes are from Morrison, Fair Land Sarawak; pp. 170-171.

* George Anthony Theodore (Tony) Shaw

Born on 25 October 1917, Shaw was educated at Marlborough and Clare College and joined the Malayan Civil Service (MCS) as a customs officer in 1940. He served as a lieutenant in the Army Intelligence Corps during the Second World War from 1942 to 1946, and was the under-secretary in the government of India's home department during 1944-1945. His intelligence work included a failed attempt to get the first Japanese POWs captured in the 1941-1942 Malayan campaign back to India. In 1948 he rejoined the MCS, transferring to Sarawak. Following Brooke traditions of establishing a close rapport with the local people, as an Assistant District Officer and District Officer he added a "sound knowledge of Dayak to his already impressive command of Malay and Cantonese." He also served as an assistant resident in Brunei, returning to Sarawak when he was appointed resident of Sarawak's Third Division. On 16 September 1963, the day Sarawak became part of Malaysia; Shaw was appointed State Secretary charged with guiding the state through its integration within the Federation of Malaysia. This was a difficult phase as "Only a small minority of Malays in Sarawak's population were unrestrainedly pro-Malaysia" whereas "the great mass of non-Muslim native peoples" were "unhappy at the prospect of Malay dominance in Sarawak" as were "the Chinese population" which "as a whole was torn in its loyalties." Shaw was awarded the CBE in 1965. Although he was meticulous in ensuring the terms of the Inter-governmental Agreement, which protected Sarawak's interests in Malaysia, were followed, he "saw the desirability of enabling the 'growing-up process'" continuing "under local guidance: by looking the other way during a virtual coup d'etat organized from Kuala Lumpur he enabled the removal of both the Chief Minister and himself" as well as John Pike. After his abrupt removal from office in 1966, he returned to England where he played a valuable role in the Milton Keynes New Town Development Corporation and the Severn Trent Water Authority. Shaw was graciously offered and graciously accepted an invitation to attend the 20th anniversary celebrations of Sarawak's becoming part of Malaysia in 1983 as a guest of honor. Seven years later he died at the age of 72. Note: The quotes are from his obituary published in The Sunday Telegraph, London, on 10 June 1990.

* John Pike

Born on 7 January 1924, Pike was educated at Dauntsey's School and St. Edmund Hall in Oxford. Like Shaw, during the Second World War he served as a lieutenant and then a captain in the Army Intelligence Corps from 1943 to 1946. Specializing in Japanese intelligence, he was on the Ultra List, one of the few allowed to view intelligence obtained via the German Enigma Code and its Japanese equivalent. Because of the security risk, those on the Ultra List were not allowed to go anywhere where they could be captured. Pike arrived in Sarawak through an interesting series of events. He was ordered to the Parachute Training School in a plan to airdrop him in the Penang area, but before the operation was carried out, the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and, shortly after, the war ended. Subsequently when taking Japanese documents from India to Singapore in an RAF Lancaster for wartime trials, on arrival he found several cartons contained cigarettes, which could be sold at huge profits. He reported this to his colonel who instructed him no further action was necessary. The colonel is understood to have lived in Singapore from this novel way of running a cigarette import business for many years. Pike was "rewarded" by an immediate posting to Labuan and thence to Kuching as OC SEATIC Sarawak. In December 1945 he was sent to Aceh in Sumatra with a company of the Durham Light Infantry to bring out the Japanese Imperial Guards Division, on which the local people had turned, using the weapons given to them by the Japanese. A British destroyer had to be called in to provide fire cover to extract the Japanese Division, which was "evacuated" in three troopships. Back in Kuching, Pike had the task of recapturing two escaped Japanese war criminals. The trail led into what was then Dutch Borneo, but those Japanese were never tried, as Dayaks had already beheaded them. Attracted to Sarawak, he applied for a post there and after completing his degree at Oxford, joined the Sarawak Civil Service as a cadet in 1949. He became a firm adherent to the Brooke tradition of establishing a close rapport with the local people. An early challenge was being directed to be the defending officer of the assassins of Duncan Stewart, Sarawak's second governor, on 3 December 1949.

After Pike had accumulated over ten years experience as a District Officer, he was given a short study course with the World Bank. Thus, when Sarawak became part of Malaysia, and the incumbent Financial Secretary declined to continue, Pike was the obvious choice for that post. During his tenure of office, one of the highlights was being deeply involved as acting Chief Secretary when 7,600 Chinese were resettled in guarded settlements in 1965 during the communist insurgency. After his abrupt removal from office in 1966, he joined the London School of Economics as financial secretary, finally retiring in 1983 to live in the Oxford area. Recognizing his contribution to Sarawak, The Sarawak government invited him to attend the 30th and 40th anniversaries (1993 and 2003) of Sarawak's integration in the Federation of Malaysia as an honored guest, when he was able to visit many of the places in which he had served.

(1) See the Biographical Appendix for brief biographical information on Stephen Kalong Ningkan.

(2) Sarawak Tribune, 29 June 1963, p. 1; 15 May 1963, p. 1.

(3) "Dayak" was the term used for all non-Muslim natives of Sarawak, which excluded the Muslim Malay and Melanau people. Seventy per cent of the non-Muslim natives were Iban.

(4) The Constitution of the State of Sarawak in the Federation of Malaysia published in a Government Gazette notification and in the Sarawak Tribune on 12 September 1963 states the governor was to be appointed by the Agong "acting in his discretion but in consultation with the Chief Minister," not the Prime Minister.

(5) Sarawak Tribune, 2 April 1987, p. 4.

(6) Information from an early draft of Chapter One in Footprints in Sarawak and Malaysia: Memoirs of Tan Sri Datuk Ong Kee Hui: 1963 to 1983, Vol. 2.

(7) Sarawak Tribune, 23 October 1963, p. 1:26 October 1963, p. 2; 18 January 1964, pp. 3, 4, and 10.

(8) Sarawak Tribune, 1 June 1962, p. 1.

(9) Sarawak Tribune, 17 March 1963, p. 2.

(10) Sarawak Tribune, 12 May 1965, p. 1.

(11) Antipathy between the Second and Third Division Ibans had its origins in the suppression of Iban uprisings in the Third Division by the Brooke regime, mainly in the second half of the 19th century. Second Division Ibans provided the bulk of the irregular forces recruited for these expeditions. There may well have been earlier territorial issues.

(12) See the Biographical Index for brief biographical information on Tony Shaw and John Pike.

(13) Sarawak Tribune, 14 May 1965, p. 1.

(14) Sarawak Tribune, 20 May 1965, p. 1.

(15) Sarawak Tribune, 21 May 1965, p. 2.

(16) Sarawak Tribune, 19 May 1965, p. 1; 22 May 1965, p. 2.

(17) Sarawak Tribune, 22 May 1965, p. 1.

(18) Jayl Langub, "Tan Sri Datuk Gerusin Lembat 1942-1955," Borneo Research Bulletin, 27 (1996): 7-11.

(19) Sarawak Tribune, 1 April 1966, p. 1.

(20) See Vernon L. Porritt, Operation Hammer." Enforced Resettlement in Sarawak in 1965, Hull: Special Issue of the Centre for South-East Asian Studies, the University of Hull, 2002.

(21) Sarawak Tribune, 14 June 1966, p. 2.

(22) Sarawak Tribune, 9 June 1965, p. 1.

(23) Straits Budget, 2 March 1966, cited in Leigh 1974: 101.

(24) Sarawak Tribune, 28 July 1965, p. 1; Leigh 1974: 107.

(25) John Pike was allowed to return to clean up his personal affairs.

(26) Sarawak Tribune, 1 October 1966, p. 8; 10 August 1967, p. 1.

(27) Sarawak Tribune, 19 March 1968, p. 3.

(28) Taib resigned as State Minister of Development and hence from the Supreme Council and the Council Negri in November 1967 after a scathing attack by Jugah over the amount of money being spent on mosques and suraus, saying that little was being done for the Dayaks living in the interior. Taib was recommended to the Dewan Rayat and appointed Deputy Minister of Commerce and Industry (Vanguard, 9 October 1967; Sarawak Tribune, 25 November 1967, p. 1).

(29) SNAP was formed on March 1961. Pesaka was formed in August 1962 to ensure the Third Division Ibans had a political voice in the developing debate over Sarawak becoming part of Malaysia since few were willing to join SNAP due to their historical differences.


Denis, Peter and Jeffrey Grey 1996 Emergency and Confrontation: Australian Military Operations in Malaya and Borneo 1950-1966. Sydney: Allen & Unwin.

Langub, Jayl 1996 Tan Sri Datuk Gerusin Lembat 1942-1955, Borneo Research Bulletin, 27: 711.

Leigh, Michael B. 1974 The Rising Moon: Political Change in Sarawak. Sydney: Sydney University Press.

Morrison, Alastair 1993 Fair Land Sarawak; Some Recollections of an Expatriate Officer. Ithaca: Cornell University.

Porritt, Vernon L. 1997 British Colonial Rule in Sarawak, 1946-1963. Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press.

2002 Operation Hammer: Enforced Resettlement in Sarawak in 1965. Hull: Special Issue of the Centre for South-East Asian Studies, the University of Hull.

Yong, Tan Sri Datuk Amar Stephen K. T. 1998 A Life Twice Lived: A Memoir. Kuching: Borneo Adventure.

Vernon L. Porritt

Visiting Research Associate

Murdoch University

Western Australia 6150


COPYRIGHT 2004 Borneo Research Council, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning

Friday, January 23, 2009

Hidden Blowpipes For The Unwary Malayans

Landmines in Sarawak, Part 1
January 22, 2009

Sim Kwang Yang, Malaysiakini

This is another masterpiece by Sim Kwang Yang which Sarawak Headhunter recommends to all opposition leaders, strategists, activists and campaigners, especially from Malaya, to read carefully and learn from, if they wish to topple Taib Mahmud and the state BN in the next state elections. Comments by Sarawak Headhunter as usual in red.

Rather than landmines though, Sarawak Headhunter prefers the analogy of "hidden" or "silent" blowpipes. These landmines or blowpipes could both work against the opposition as well as the BN.

It is up to the opposition to turn them against the BN.

During the Japanese Occupation, the Japanese soldiers by and large did not dare to venture too far outside of the town areas of Sarawak, for fear of the hidden blowpipes. Once silently struck down by the blowpipes, it was a simple matter for their heads to be taken, and quite a few heads that one sees in the longhouses today were made in Japan.

This marked a revival of the Dayaks' headhunting customs of old which had been largely stopped during the time of the Brookes. Needless to say it scared the Japanese soldiers shitless.

One example can be seen in the Sarawak Museum today, of a Japanese army doctor's head, complete with his round-rimmed spectacles.

There is a lesson in this for the opposition to learn from, which for the time being Sarawak Headhunter will not elaborate on. Suffice to say for now that sometimes a silent campaign is more effective in scaring or shutting the enemy out. This has nothing to do with actually blowpiping them or cutting their heads off - sometimes just the mere threat of the same would be sufficient, and that is merely one aspect of it.

Scare the BN shitless so that they won't even dare to set foot let alone campaign in the Dayak areas!

Employ silent strategies so that they won't know what hit them!

Being severed from the Malayan Peninsula by a vast expanse of water, the political sky over the fair land of Sarawak has very different hues and colours. Sometimes, the political quirks and kinks can seem incomprehensible to politicians and people from outside the state.

Mostly this is because they do not make any effort to really get to know, study and understand Sarawakians. Many think they know better about Sarawak than Sarawakians themselves. These attitudes get them nowhere. What works in Malaya doesn't necessarily work in Sarawak and what works for Malayans doesn't necessarily work for Sarawakians, even more so if there is a complete lack of understanding in the first place on the part of the Malayans.

As an example, what the Kuching Malays do and say is not necessarily followed by even the Malays of other parts of Sarawak, let alone the Dayaks. The influence of the Kuching Malays does not stretch too far outside of Kuching and they do not have a strong rural power base, which is partly why they have been outmanouevered by Taib Mahmud and why Abang Jo will probably never become Chief Minister even though he is the Deputy President of PBB.

The centre of the Sarawak Malay anti-cessionist and nationalist movement was Sibu, not Kuching, a factor exploited by Rahman and Taib (both of whose family origins are from Mukah - and Malaya, Kelantan to be more precise). It is not a coincidence that except for the first Governor - Abang Jo's father - after the formation of Malaysia, all the rest have been from Sibu (in the case of Rahman, Mukah).

If PKR falls into the trap of listening too much to the Kuching Malays and even the Kuching Chinese and Dayaks for that matter, they will never be able to capture Sarawak or get anything positive done. Does PKR even know who these people are? Can they even identify them? That is now the danger, if we are to depend entirely on PKR. DAP knows better in this regard, but can only be counted on mainly in the Chinese areas of Sarawak, although there are admittedly some DAP leaders who have managed to get some measure of following in certain Dayak areas.

Part of the reason for this discrepancy is that the collective imagination of Sarawakians is not shaped by the national media entirely, but also by the local media in Sarawak in all forms, including and especially the radio which is often the only source of information about the outside world in much of the Sarawak rural heartland.

All the newspapers in various languages are pro-BN government of course. They are all owned by companies and business interests that depend on the state government for survival. The BN control over the formation of public opinions is water-tight.

So it would appear, though the talk in Sarawak coffeeshops say otherwise.

In this way, the Sarawak BN is able to monopolise the content and the style of political discourse throughout the entire state. Alternative or dissident voices can hardly ever find the space to articulate their views. With telephone access limited to the towns and some semi-urban areas, the power of the Internet has yet to establish a foothold.

In contrast, the flow of information from the state government and its leaders to the people even in the most remote village communities is entrenched by a tightly controlled system of government administration, encompassing the police, the Residents, the district officers, the information officers, and the agriculture officers.

Not forgetting the Kemajuan Masyarakat - KEMAS (purported "Community Development") - spies, who report all opposition moves and tendencies to their political masters.

In the rural areas, this firewall of information control does mean that the political frame of reference of the voters is designed by the BN leaders to legitimate their position as patrons, with the villagers being brainwashed into the dependence syndrome. The carrot must be reinforced with the stick, so fear of losing this patronage is instilled into their minds over the past decades.

The opposition must devise strategies to break the people free from this vicious circle of information control, patronage and fear. The opposition must convince the people that they are capable of being a viable replacement government to the BN and that their leader can replace Taib as Chief Minister. Is there such a person amongst the opposition ranks today? Will there be such a person?

Quality of political narratives

In the towns, the voters are likely to be much better informed. Now they also enjoy the convenience of the Internet. Being financially independent and expecting development as a right, many urban voters in Sarawak are less vulnerable to the carrot and the stick. That explains partly why the DAP and the PKR were able to win seats in the 2006 Sarawak election. Many Chinese voters in smaller towns still tend to be blinded by the awesome BN propaganda machine.

Not necessarily - Sarawak Headhunter has seen Chinese voters even in smaller towns exercising fairly independent judgment. DAP can and should still play an important role here, especially where the Chinese vote could be a deciding factor.

One casualty of this closure of the public space in Sarawak is the questionable quality of political narratives in Sarawak.

The opposition has to up the ante here. PKR newspapers and newsletters, even VCDs, for example, should be made more widely available at an affordable cost, especially throughout rural Sarawak, in Iban and other native languages as well. This will offset the lack of reach of the internet and would even prove to be far more popular than the BN-controlled media, which is mainly crap.

Include as much of the blog writings and comments as possible and allow for open debate - this will make the opposition media a good and inexhaustible open source of material, narrative and discourse on the political affairs of Sarawak.

It is high time also for Pakatan Rakyat to start thinking seriously about having their own TV station, if they really want to capture Sarawak in the next state elections. Beam it in from Kalimantan, Indonesia if necessary. That will give Taib and the Sarawak BN many sleepless nights.

In 1978, I suffered reverse cultural shock when I returned from a first world country like Canada to a third world territory like Sarawak. The intellectual, cultural, and political backwardness of Sarawakians hit me in my face like a train.

When I helped to pioneer the formation of the DAP Kuching Branch that year, it was the first time that the opposition party was making a serious entry into Sarawak state politics. Sarawakians knew next to nothing about this political party, though they had been a brand name party in West Malaysia since 1967.

Immediately, my main opponents in the Sarawak United People's Party (Supp) branded the DAP as a Peninsular party, and therefore "foreign" and "alien", neither acceptable nor relevant to the political life in Sarawak. I, together with other DAP local leaders, were portrayed as merely "treacherous running dogs" for Orang Malaya, a term tinged with undisguised contempt for all things that originated from West Malaysia.

This twisted piece of anaemic logic worked in favour of Supp in my nearly 20 year involvement in active politics. I could win in the Kuching parliamentary constituency three consecutive times, but my many attempts to win a state seat failed. I believe this silly piece of garbage argument was finally laid to rest in the 2006 general election, almost 30 years after the appearance of the DAP on the shores of Sarawak!

This twisted logic of branding the DAP as a West Malaysian worked for the good part of three decades because of the BN's failure in regional integration through equitable socio-economic development. For 45 years after independence, the lived experience of Sarawakians is one of post-colonial exploitation by Kuala Lumpur.

Widespread discontent

While the rich natural resources like oil and gas in Sarawak has been largely sucked into the national coffer, to be used as a cash cow by the federal government for the benefits of non-Sarawakians, all socio-economic indicators in Sarawak are many decades behind richer states like Selangor and Johore. There has been next to nothing for Sarawak's industrial and manufacturing sectors.

This widespread discontent among Sarawakians of all races has been projected onto the social and ethnic level as well. Sarawakians' mistrust of anything to do with West Malaysians borders on the xenophobic.

There are quite a few large army camps in and around Kuching City. The soldiers from these camps are almost exclusively Malays from West Malaysia. Their relationship with the Sarawak Malays has sometimes been strained, because of some soldiers' unsatisfactory relationships with Sarawak Malay ladies. Once, in the late 60s, this strain erupted into a public fight near the renowned Kuching open air market. Such brief altercations have still been reported until today.

The Sarawak Malays have a name for these soldiers: lipih, which in the local Malay dialect means "cockroach"! My Malay friends in Kuching tell me they have more friends among the local Chinese and Dayaks than with Orang Malaya.

The Sarawak Malays do speak a kind of Malay dialect which would sound like a foreign language to a Malay first time visitor from West Malaysia. The tone and the vocabulary are vastly different from the West Malaysian Malay dialects and the official Bahasa Malaysia.

Without doing research, I cannot ascertain the lineage of the Sarawak Malays. But their approach to religion is also unique.

Sarawak Malays are deeply devoted Muslims too. But they have been spared the kind of religious radicalisation that has emerged in West Malaysia since the 1970s. That is why numerous attempts by PAS to establish a bridgehead in Sarawak have not yielded any success. By and large, the Sarawak Malay/Melanau Muslims are far more tolerant in matters of religious freedom than their Peninsular counterparts.

A similar trend of alienation also exists among the Sarawak Chinese. Generally, they have a low opinion of West Malaysian Chinese, calling them "Sai Bay Kia", (small people from the west).

They may all be Chinese, but they speak so differently. My impression is that the Sarawak Chinese find their visitors from across the South China Sea too aggressive, too "Kia Su", and too cold. As for me, I certainly have many more friends of all races in Sarawak than those in West Malaysia, despite my long residence in the Klang Valley.

I hear that this strange sense of self-identity exists in the university campuses located in West Malaysia. While students there will flock together as Indians, Malays, and Chinese, Sarawakian and Sabahan students tend to socialise as Anak Sarawak or Anak Sabah.

In the political consciousness of Sarawakians, they are probably Sarawakians first, and Malaysians second. I still read on the Internet postings on Sarawak blog sites reviving the call "Sarawak for Sarawakians", the battle cry of the Sarawak National Party (Snap) in the early 1970s, when they were vanquished to the political wilderness.

Sarawak Headhunter pleads guilty to this, but has now changed it to "Sarawakians for Sarawak" on the advice of a good friend. Anyone has a better battle cry?

Therefore, this anti-West sentiment was successfully manipulated by the Supp against the DAP in Sarawak throughout the 1980s and 1990s. By now, it has lost the magic of its empty logic.

The irony of course is that the SUPP, being part of the BN, has also been more than subservient to the UMNO Malayans.

There are two good reasons why I wish to revisit this old haunt for me.

PKR supremo Anwar Ibrahim has announced the grand intention of the Pakatan Rakyat to launch a full-scale offensive to take power in Sarawak in the next state election there.

Already, there are many postings by supposedly Dayak netizens on the sites of Sarawak bloggers calling PKR a "West Malaysian party". They could be genuinely misinformed Sarawakians, but then they could be agents provocateurs preparing the ground for BN parties. It is time I examine again why such a perception is faulty.

PKR is a Malayan party. There are no Sarawakians in any senior positions in PKR. Anwar Ibrahim, the informal head of PKR, has even made himself head of PKR Sarawak (and for good measure Sabah) as well. How does that accommodate Sarawakians in PKR? What misinformation or faulty perception is that?

Whatever it is, Sarawak Headhunter is certainly not a BN agent provocateur.

Secondly, my analysis here may help PKR leaders and grassroots workers understand the unique social and ethnic milieu in Sarawak, so that when they go to campaign in Sarawak, they would not shoot themselves on their foot, or land on landmines planted by the local BN.

Or perhaps so that they may learn to use the local blowpipes and blowpipers against the local BN. To do this they will really need to get to know well the Sarawakians they are dealing with and take advise from the right Sarawakians and treat Sarawakians properly. Can they and will they?

Are they willing to give Sarawak back to Sarawakians? Or are they willing to give Sarawakians their rightful place in PKR and in Malaysia?

Sarawakians for Sarawak!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

How Taib & BN's Money Politics "Work" In Sarawak

The Dayak Dilemma Part 4

Sim Kwang Yang | Jan 17, 09 1:39pm

Comments by Sarawak Headhunter in red.

Sarawak Headhunter recommends that all posts in this series by Sim Kwang Yang be made mandatory reading for the leaders and policy makers of PKR.

This concluding part to my series on the Dayak dilemma is actually about a Sarawak dilemma: Money politics during general elections. The problem is not limited to the rural Dayak and Malay constituencies. It is rampant even in the supposedly middle class financially-independent urban constituencies.

I should know. I contested as an opposition candidate in Kuching eight times. I could tell that most of my opponents spent millions on their election campaigns. Even in my last election in 1995, which I lost to a SUPP candidate, vote buying was quite widespread.

My personal experience at the receiving end of money politics can be compiled into huge volumes. Corrupt election practices can indeed take ingenious forms.

In one case, my opponent summoned and feted all the gangs in towns before the nomination day, making offers that these hard hats could not refuse. During the actual campaign, these gangs took over the town, street by street, hanging up the banners, watching their respective turf, intimidating my campaign workers, and serving as runners when there was heavy betting that would favour the BN candidate. These gangs were paid tens of thousands each, with limitless supply of beer thrown in as bonus.

In another election, my opponent summoned all the tut-tut drivers numbering in the hundreds to his house for a grand dinner before nomination day. The tut-tut is usually a van or a small truck driven by the vendors into every street and every housing estate to sell their meat, fish, and vegetables to housewives every day. Having been paid hundreds and thousands by the candidate, these mercenaries can make a big difference in any election.

More money on trees than hornbills

A blogger by the name of Hantu Laut has this to say on his posting on December 27 2008:

"Sarawak and Sabah are the mothers of money politics, progenitors of vote buying, political arm twisting, and the ultimate money-can-buy-anything. If words cannot convince you money can, and more often than not it works, and Sarawak and Sabah have plenty of it during election times."

"In the Land of the Hornbills, there is more money growing on trees than the legendary birds in the forests. The forests have made millionaires and billionaires."

If money can work in even the literate, affluent, educated and informed voters in the towns, think of what wonders it can achieve in semi-literate, isolated and impoverished rural constituencies.

It starts on nomination day, when thousands of mercenary supporters have to be transported by bus or boats over great distances to the nomination centres to wave flags and shout slogans during the nomination process. The difference between Sarawak and Peninsular Malaysia in this particular mode of campaign is the high costs of transport in my home state.

Immediately after that, the election agents of the BN candidate would issue as many Form Es as possible; eventually there would be a candidate's agent or two in every village within the entire constituency.

Form E is an authorisation required by our election laws for anyone to canvass for votes on behalf of the candidate. In Sarawak's jungle, it is a piece of IOU from the candidate to the voter, to be exchanged for cash after the election. The promised amount varies, depending on the size of the candidate's war chest, and the extent of the competitiveness in the contest. In small constituencies of less than 10,000 voters say, one can buy an election victory by issuing mere thousands of Form Es.

The greatest enemy for the financially challenged opposition candidates is of course the infamously hostile terrain of Sarawak's vast territory, which makes transport and communication prohibitively expensive.

In many rural constituencies, the only way to gain access to one village of less than 100 voters is by the boat or the four-wheeled drive. The powerful and well endowed BN candidate can just book up all the boats and four-wheeled drives in his entire constituency, leaving his opponent with little or no mode of transportation. Better still, he can book up all the petrol stations, so that the opposition candidates cannot move at all! This tactic is particularly successful in those up-stream constituencies along many of Sarawak's great rivers!

Anwar Ibrahim, PKR and Pakatan Rakyat, please take note!

Very common practice

Then again, I know of more than a few BN YBs who would serve up running feasts for their voters and campaigners, day and night, throughout the entire duration of the campaign period. Animals and birds would be purchased and slaughtered in great numbers, while endless supply of alcoholic drinks would stand ready for the usually very thirsty Dayak voters. They can eat and drink to their stupor; naturally they would feel morally obliged to vote for the generous hosts.

In the old days, the local home brew like langkow would have sufficed. Nowadays, I hear rural voters have higher expectations of their brew. Beer and Guinness Stout are now preferred. The candidates must thank God that the rural Dayaks have yet to discover the beauty of single malt Scotch whisky!

The free dispensation of cash is a common practice in rural constituencies. In one Bidayuh village in the Bengoh constituency near Kuching, I met a voter who had four or five party badges. He laughingly told me that whichever party candidate came to his village during the election campaign, he would be a party member with an outstretched hand with its palm up!

A few days before the voting, I used to see at various airports young men boarding helicopters with the tell tale James Bond bags. This would be the time when information reached me that huge sums of money in small notes had been withdrawn from banks. Eventually, on the eve of polling day, voters in even the remotest village would receive their cut.

It would be all too easy to rant and rave at the stupidity of Sarawak voters for selling out their rights, as Sarawak bloggers and coffee-shop analysts are wont to do these days.

Look at it from the poor villagers' point of view. Politicians from both the BN and the opposition parties are irrelevant in their daily life in those long years between elections. Politics is talked about only when election fever arrives at their longhouse.

These voters know quite well that the candidates will disappear after the elections, back to the towns where they would get rich with their business ventures for the next few years. They may as well get the maximum benefits for themselves while the election lasts.

Then again, the high costs of an election campaign have put off many aspiring politicians to join the usually cash strapped opposition parties. The big problem of PKR in Sarawak - at this moment of launching a serious bid for power in the next state election - is the dearth of fresh political talents to be recruited from the native middle class residing mostly in the towns.

Anwar Ibrahim, PKR and Pakatan Rakyat, please take note again!

The high costs of an election victory have also driven the cleanest of BN politicians into corruption. To sustain such expensive campaign election after election, they have no choice but to get rich on government contracts or government plantation land through their own business ventures. In the process, they have been enslaved to the biggest patron in Sarawak, Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud. That is why defecting to Pakatan Rakyat cannot be such an attractive option.

Mother of all evils

Some cynical commentators have pointed out to me that there is one good thing that ensues from the culture of money politics in Sarawak. At least the huge dirty timber and other wealth in Sarawak can be redistributed into the pockets of the impoverished villagers during the election period. It is a twisted form of socialism.

To me, this pervasive presence of money politics in my beloved home state is the mother of all evils.

It has made a mockery of the democratic process, corrupted the political will of the people, and sent public morality to the sewers. It belies the cynical assumption that the government might as well keep the people poor, so they can more easily be bought during elections!

Not all villagers can be bought of course. In the course of my travel to many remote corners of Sarawak, I have encountered many community leaders who are wise and courageous. The trouble is the lack of dedicated committed and sincere leadership to organise and guide them to fight against the mighty BN juggernaut.

It would be too late for opposition candidates to start the campaign on the eve of another election. The voters do not know them, and would just lump them together with the BN leaders as yet another cash cow. Even if the opposition candidate has a few millions at his disposal, he will be outspent by his BN opponent.

The odds can only be overcome long before the election begins. The aspiring opposition candidate has to build his party structure throughout his entire constituency since yesterday. He has to visit every village during the non-election years, and help solve the villagers' problems. He has to fight alongside them whenever they face problems with their NCR land. It demands tremendous personal sacrifice, but there is no short cut for success in a movement for justice and democracy.

It can be done, but are there enough concerned Sarawakians prepared to pay the price?

Well Sarawakians, are there?

Sarawakians For Sarawak.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Sunday, January 11, 2009

RPK's Open Letter To Terengganu Voters


Today, Raja Petra Kamarudin writes an open letter to the Kuala Terengganu voters to explain to them why they need to vote for Pakatan Rakyat in the 17 January 2009 by-election.


Raja Petra Kamarudin

Dear Voter,

I trust this letter finds you in good health. You probably already know why I am writing to you. So please allow me to dispense with all the bullshit and cut to the chase, as much as this may appear extremely abrupt and not within Malay culture. I feel I should not labour too much on Malay, Chinese or Indian culture when our mission is to see the emergence of a new culture, a Malaysian culture, a melting pot of cultures if you like.

I am not a politician. I am not a political party member. Neither am I holding any position in any political party, association, movement, or whatever. I am just, what the government calls me, a Blogger. Why they call me a Blogger I do not really know. But I suppose it is because they view me as being behind Malaysia Today and they consider Malaysia Today a Blog.

Anyway, what the government chooses to label me as is not important because what I am going to say to you is not about me but about the future of this country. So, maybe what I would like to be called is a Malaysian. That’s right. I am a Malaysian, just like you, and I am addressing you as one Malaysian to another.

On 17 January 2009, you will be coming out to vote in the Kuala Terengganu by-election. Nevertheless, while you may view this as merely a by-election, it is not really a by-election as much as it is a proxy war between Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat. Yes, it is an election to decide whether you, the Kuala Terengganu voters, are happy with the federal government or whether you would like to send a message to Barisan Nasional that you are not happy with the way Malaysians are being treated.

On 8 March 2008, half the Malaysian voters voted for Pakatan Rakyat. Granted, it was not a vote in support of Pakatan Rakyat as much as it was a vote against Barisan Nasional -- a protest vote, as some would call it. But whether it was a vote in support of Pakatan Rakyat or a vote in protest of Barisan Nasional is not really the issue. The objective was to send a message to Barisan Nasional that the people are not happy. And the people demonstrated this by not voting for Barisan Nasional.

But did Barisan Nasional get the message? Did they take pains to change? No! What happened instead was that Barisan Nasional became even more arrogant. They did not understand that Malaysians have had enough of the arrogance of power and the result of the 8 March 2008 general election was meant as a medium to send a message to Barisan Nasional that 51 years was enough. No more arrogance! But the arrogance continued. Barisan Nasional did not repent. Instead, they demonstrated even more arrogance.

The Permatang Pauh by-election, again, proved that Barisan Nasional had not repented. The dirty tricks they pulled off managed to reduce Anwar Ibrahim’s majority from almost 20,000 to just 15,000. Okay, Anwar Ibrahim still performed better than Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail in the general election just five months before that. He still got two out of three votes or 66% of the votes. But what would have happened if the vote-majority had been razor-thin like what happened in Kuala Terengganu on 8 March 2008 where the Umno candidate won by a mere 600 votes? The almost 5,000 votes that they robbed Anwar Ibrahim of would have turned victory into defeat.

I am aware that many of you have received RM300 over the last few days. Some have received RM500 and others as much as RM1,000. This money is aimed at buying your votes. They hope that once you take this money you will feel obligated to vote for Barisan Nasional and that you will feel guilty if, after taking the money, you vote for Pakatan Rakyat.

Well, don’t feel guilty. Take the money by all means. But you need not vote for Barisan Naisonal even if you do take the money. The money does not belong to Barisan Nasional. It belongs to the people. It is your money. So you are just taking back the money that was originally yours in the first place.

Do you really think Barisan Nasional would hand out money that belongs to them? No way! They took this money from you. Over 25 years, from 1974 to 1999, they siphoned out an estimated RM12 billion in Oil Royalty due to Terengganu. Then, from 2000 until 2008, they siphoned out another RM8 billion in the guise of Wang Ehsan. That comes to a total of RM20 billion. And how much are they throwing back at you in this 17 January 2009 by-election? Yes, that’s right, only RM80 million.

Okay, RM80 million sounds like a lot of money. It certainly is when you consider that the law says you must not spend more than RM200,000 in the election. So RM80 million is way above the allowed RM200,000. And that is just the Ang Pows they are going around town to hand out to the voters. What about the posters, flags, banners, balloons, T-shirts, caps, food and drinks, vehicles, helicopters, police outriders, salaries, etc., which you, the rakyat, are ultimately paying for? Don’t be surprised if I tell you that the total amount spent is going to touch at least RM250 million and that this is probably the most expensive by-election ever. And we are yet to calculate how much it costs to station 6,000 police personnel in Kuala Terengganu over the two-week period.

But whose money is all this? Why, yours of course. They are spending your money, or should I say, wasting your money, just to retain the Kuala Terengganu parliament seat. And why the need to spend what may come to RM500 million in the end-- if we take into consideration the total mobilisation cost -- just to win a by-election? Well, as I said earlier, it is because the Kuala Terengganu by-election is not just a by-election but a proxy war between Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat.

Malaysians from all over the country are hoping that you, the Kuala Terengganu voters, will do the right thing. And the ‘right thing’ here is to send a message to Barisan Nasional that you can’t be bought, especially with your own money -- which they robbed from you in the first place. Also, send a message to Barisan Nasional that you have had enough of the arrogance, the threats, the rampant corruption and wastage of the rakyat’s money, the abuse of power, and whatnot. Tell Barisan Nasional on 17 January 2009 that 52 years is enough. After 52 years it is time for change.

With regards to the 6,000 police personnel based in Kuala Terengganu over these two weeks, don’t be too alarmed. Sure, it is partly meant to intimidate you and to give an impression that trouble may be brewing over the horizon, especially if Barisan Nasional does not win the by-election. But this is not the real reason. Remember, when they handed you the RM300, RM500 or RM1,000, they asked you for copies of your identity cards on the excuse they need this ‘for the record’? Well, it is not really ‘for the record’. They want to use these copies of your identity cards to create ‘phantom voters’. And don’t be surprised if on Polling Day many of the 6,000 police personnel turn up in ‘plain clothes’ to vote in your place.

They are hoping that at least 20,000 to 25,000 of you will not come out to vote. This is quite normal because in any election the best we can expect is a 70% or so voter turnout. 30% of 80,000, therefore, comes to roughly 20,000 to 25,000 ‘no show’ voters. They can then always ‘safely’ increase the voter turnout to 75% and no one will be the wiser. This means they can pad the ballot boxes with about 4,000 to 5,000 ‘additional’ votes with no problems whatsoever. Now can you see why they need 6,000 police personnel in Kuala Terengganu? Take a wild guess and no prize for the right guess.

I urge you, therefore, to come out and vote so that you can deny them the opportunity to vote in your place. And come out early. Come out as soon as the polling stations open. If you go and vote after lunch you might find you are not able to vote because you ‘already voted’ -- as many found out in the Permatang Pauh by-election on 26 August 2008.

In the Permatang Pauh by-election, at least 600 voters could not vote because someone else had already voted in their place. And that is only what was reported. Many just silently went home without complaining that someone had voted in their place. We expect the incidences of ‘sudah undi’ to be very high on 17 January 2009. And if that happens lodge a protest. And make a police report as well. In Permatang Pauh, about 50 police reports were made -- and of course no action was taken.

One issue they are playing up to the hilt is the issue of the Islamic State and Hudud laws. This is aimed at frightening the Chinese voters. Why don’t you turn the tables on them and, for once, place Barisan Nasional on the defensive. Ask Umno what their stand on the Islamic State is. Instead of allowing them to demonise PAS, ask Umno to declare that they are opposed to the Islamic State and will never agree to Islamic laws. Make this a condition before you decide whether you will vote for the Barisan Nasional candidate. If Umno refuses to do this then why are they demonising PAS? Will Umno, therefore, not also be considered in support of the Islamic State and Islamic laws?

Then ask Umno why they are giving so much problems to the Christians. The Christians are very unhappy with the Umno-led government’s policy on churches and the Bible. But all this is happening at federal level and only in the Umno-run states. The Christians face no problems in Pakatan Rakyat-run states, not even in Kelantan. Is it not Umno, rather than PAS, that is intolerant of the non-Muslims? This is the reality. And almost 20 years of PAS rule in Kelantan lies testimony to this.

So why are they demonising PAS when it is Umno that causes so much problems for the non-Muslims? Many reject PAS because they fear Islam. But PAS has been very tolerant and helpful to the non-Muslims. Kelantan offers the non-Muslims permission to build places of worship even when they did not approach the state government for permission. Umno repeatedly denies non-Muslims permission to set up places of worship.

Yes, it is time that Umno be asked to state very clearly its stand on the Islamic State and Islamic laws. PAS is not in power. PAS can never be in power. PAS has only 23 seats in Parliament. Even if it wins the Kuala Terengganu by-election it will still only be 24 seats. PAS can never win more than 30 seats in Parliament. Even in the best of times, like in 1999, it won only 27 Parliament seats. PAS can never go beyond 30 seats. Anyway, every general election, PAS contests only 60 seats. So how can it win more than that?

It is Umno that leads the federal government. And it is Umno that decides the policies and makes the rules. And it is Umno that is giving the non-Muslims all these problems. So why is PAS being demonised? Why do the non-Muslims fear PAS? This, I can’t seem to understand. You fear PAS because of what it MAY do if it comes to power -- even though it can never come to power, not without DAP and PKR. But you do not fear Umno when it is already in power and is the one giving the non-Muslims all these problems. Is this logical?

It would be very nice if the Kuala Terengganu voters, once and for all, force Umno to state its stand on Islam. Let Umno declare its stand openly and before 17 January 2009, if they dare. I dare bet that they won’t. That is because, while they are demonising PAS on its Islamic State stand, Umno itself does not dare state its stand. At least PAS is honest about the matter. Can we say the same for Umno? Umno whacks PAS but it is not PAS that is the problem to the non-Muslims. It is Umno.

I would like to end by saying I hope you, the Kuala Terengganu voters, will not let Malaysia down. We are depending on you to teach Barisan Nasional a lesson on 17 January 2009. A message needs to be sent to Barisan Nasional. And you have the opportunity to do this in the Kuala Terengganu by-election. Do this for Malaysia. And, more importantly, do it for the future generation, your children and grandchildren. You owe them this much.

Yours truly,

Raja Petra Kamarudin