by Joe Fernandez
from Malaysiakini.com, 8 March 2009
Green activist, lawyer and ex-Baram MP Harrison Ngau Laing, 49, worries that PKR (Parti Keadilan Rakyat) Sarawak suffers from “the curse of the PBDS Syndrome”.
He denies that he is being a wet blanket and predicts that “time will sadly prove me right unless a miracle happens on the ground to save PKR from itself”.
He has, in recent days, warned party adviser Anwar Ibrahim directly and indirectly against “following in the tragic footsteps of Leo Moggie Anak Irok”, the first and only president of PBDS which was eventually de-registered following a prolonged leadership tussle allegedly “bankrolled by moneybags”. PBDS stands for Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak.
Laing, who joined PKR officially in December last year after a two-year courtship, following a long spell in the political wilderness, acknowledges that there are important differences between both parties. However, he said this may, as yet, tip the odds in favour of PKR “but we don’t want another Perak here…there are many disturbing similarities as well with PBDS”.
“It is clear that there is strong sentiment on the ground for political change in Sarawak because voters are sick and tired of Taib Mahmud who refuses to go away despite his ill-health. They would also like to see the back of Alfred Jabu and George Chan but Chan has at least pledged to quit anyway unlike the other two,” is Laing’s reading of the current situation in Sarawak.
“But that’s about as far as it goes. There are few signs, as yet, that the current anti-BN public sentiment will translate into regime change as expected by PKR even if Jabu is not replaced, as speculated, by senior PBB vice-president Douglas Uggah.”
‘Living on hope and wishful thinking’
“PKR in Sarawak seems set to suffer the same fate as PBDS, wresting defeat from the jaws of victory. There’s so much living on hope and wishful thinking. They just sit around attending sponsored party dinner functions, waiting for some nice things to happen to them one day. This is the PBDS Syndrome…the Dayak curse.”
Laing’s assessment on the ground is uncharacteristically bleak for an incurable optimist and idealist.
He believes that PKR’s dream of adding Sarawak to its booty of war will not materialise in the immediate future, despite the “little boy “ (Anwar) telling the emperor (Taib) that he has no clothes, “unless the winds of change blow from within the party itself so it can manifest itself at the ballot box”.
Change must begin with discarding the current top-down approach, reiterates Laing, loosening the grip of the Kuching Mafia on the party, keeping moneybags at bay, democratisation and meaningful decentralisation. It is agreed that Anwar is perhaps “the most energetic politician in Malaysia” but he cannot continue to be “a one-man political entertainment show”.
“At present, the messengers are carrying only good tidings to the king (Anwar) and the result has been a kind of euphoria which has induced a tendency to be complacent and rest on one’s laurels,” said Laing.
“There is a dire need to reduce the influence of political has-beens, sore losers, sour grapes, those with a self-serving agenda and others with no record of serving the public. All of them need to be put in their proper places if they want to be in PKR.”
Laing has brought up his take on Sarawak at the national leadership level but the reply from Anwar was telling. He wants the party to be inclusive, “not exclusive”, an ideal with which Laing agrees but the question is “who should be calling the shots in the party (PKR), certainly not those who are no great loss to the BN”.
Skeletons in the cupboard
Laing, who won his only term as MP (1990 – 1995) as an independent against the combined might of the BN and came late to law as a distance learner in the process, opines that the ex-PBDS – the figure given is 90,000 – and BN influx into PKR is largely led by discredited politicians who will be rejected by the people.
He defines “discredited people” as those who have no record of service to the people despite being given the opportunity to serve, have skeletons in the cupboard, are not wanted by the BN itself and may not be above horse-trading with PBB even when the chips are not down.
“Why is Nicholas Bawin – PKR Batang Ai – going around telling people that there is not even one sincere leader among the Dayaks? He’s right but he should also include himself – ‘that’s right’, fumes ‘we are not perfect’ James Masing and ex-radical Wildfred Nissom of PRS – among them,” said Laing who considers himself among the few leaders to emerge from the grassroots and survivedto fight another day.
“Nicholas Bawin is a very naïve man, a colourless character, with an old longhouse brain who doesn’t understand politics. He doesn’t impress, inspire or motivate people.”
Laing readily dismisses the collective Dayak political leadership as not only insincere, as alleged by Bawin, but “largely a creation of the powers that be that have thrust them on the people and hounded genuine grassroots leaders out of existence”.
The ruling elite prefer those who are vulnerable, to lead the Dayaks, so that they can be easily threatened, blackmailed and intimidated into submission, charges Laing.
“This kind of politics started with Abdul Rahman Yakub – who preceded his nephew Taib as chief minister – and the moneybags linked to SUPP (Sarawak United People’s Party).”
As one example, Laing points out that Taib callously replaced the only Bidayuh member in the Federal Cabinet with his son, Sulaiman, after the general elections last year “because the Bidayuh are led by vulnerable leaders in the BN”.
Taib’s cousin sister – returned unopposed despite being unknown — and brother are also in the Sarawak state assembly as first time representatives.
‘Huge government projects’
As another example, Laing claims that PBDS was actually sponsored by moneybags linked to PBB (Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu) to split SNAP (Sarawak National Party), and “was destroyed dutifully by Masing and Sng Chee Hwa, at PBB’s behest, when Daniel Tajem Anak Miri took over from Moggie”.
“Sng is now back again, like a bad smell that follows us everywhere, sponsoring all the PKR dinner functions so far in Kuching, Bintulu, Sibu and Miri while his son, Larry Sng, enjoys Taib’s patronage and remains an Assistant Minister. This is despite him not being in any political party.”
“The father-in-law (Larry’s) continues to get huge government projects,” notes Laing. “I have warned Anwar about the presence of Sng Snr. He merely said he knows and started preaching again about being inclusive.
“Why is Sng Snr.going around handing out money directly to lower line PKR leaders? I have complained about this. This is a guy who gives money to both sides after obtaining it from government projects.”
Laing wants Sng to donate directly to the party, “if he is sincere”, and not “go around buying up people on the ground” and “then run to the government (in the past) with a big bill to reimburse himself many times over with projects which he can sell. This is stealing from the people”.
However, moneybags and “dubious characters” plaguing PKR in Sarawak are not the least of the party’s problems.
Laing wants some way to be found to integrate, into PKR, the thousands of para-legal trainees from the grassroots who have been turned out over the last ten years by community activists linked to Sahabat Alam Malaysia, Sadia (Sarawak Dayak Iban Association) and Brimas (Borneo Resources Institute).
“This is where the future of PKR in Sarawak and Dayak politics lies,” said Laing.
“If we lose these people, BN will continue to rule even if they lose the next state election. Too much is at stake for PBB. They are already bragging that they know who to buy should PKR take over the state government and we have a situation like that in Perak.”
“Why did Perak happen? It’s because the wrong kind of people were fielded by PKR i.e. people vulnerable to threats and blackmail and lacking in commitment to sincerely serve the people.
“Sarawak could easily turn into another Perak especially when the governor is firmly in the PBB camp…and the Rahman-Taib political dynasty has strong lobbyists in Kuala Lumpur with unlimited funds.”
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