KUALA LUMPUR: Since the defections of Sabah Umno warlord Lajim Ukin and Tuaran MP Wilfred Bumburing, federal level Barisan Nasional leaders and those in Sarawak have repeatedly claimed that the changing landscape in Sabah won’t affect them.
The reiterations have come from all quarters and at a speed which has left many wondering at the necessity for such vehement declarations of ‘unity’ and ‘steadfastness’.
From component party leaders to Sarawak Chief Minister Taib Mahmud’s right hand men, the assertions have come fast and furious, aiming perhaps to drown growing speculations of potential defections in Sarawak as polling nears.
The names are already in circulation and according to sources in Kuching, Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim is in discussion with leaders who are also from Taib’s Pesaka Bumiputra Bersatu (PBB).
“He (Anwar) is targetting the Dayak wing in PBB. He is talking to some leaders. He is also talking to people in PRS and SPDP,” said the longtime political observer, who declined to be named.
According to the source, unhappy Taib is in the know and is tightening his grip on his leaders with offers of projects and posts.
Currently Sarawak is Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s only surefire hope in an election that could go either way despite ground reports of Najib’s popularity.
Sarawak has 31 parliamentary seats. PBB holds 14 seats while SUPP was allocated seven, PRS (six) and SPDP (four). Except for PBB the rest only offer uncertainties.
Since the 2008 elections, Sarawak BN has lost two seats – Bandar Kuching and Bandar Sibu (in a by-election in May 2010).
But last April’s state election was a wake-up of sorts for the Taib-led administration when the opposition swept 15 seats and an independent took one.
Is Taib ‘talking’ Anwar
DAP, Sarawak’s longest standing opposition, wrested 12 of 15 seats it contested and PKR won three seats – Batu Lintang, Ba Kelalan and Krian – losing Senadin to BN- SUPP by a contentious 58 seat margin.
Even then Anwar was already engaging Taib’s interest. In fact it was rumoured last April that Taib had sent his business associate Sng Chee Hua to hold a ‘dialogue’ with Anwar. The ‘secret’ breakfast meeting received much media attention.
A year later, another tale surfaced that Taib had sent his advisor Adenan Satem, once tipped to succeed him, to speak to Anwar.
Taib’s discomfort with the Najib-led regime in Putrajaya is well known in Kuching. Many saw and heard for themselves how Najib attempted to corner the old man whom he calls ‘uncle’ into publicly announcing his departure date despite earlier agreeing in private to let him bide his time.
The wily Taib, turned the table on Najib during the public gathering. The fact that Najib and almost the entire Umno cabinet landed in Sarawak during last April’s state polls was another humiliation to Taib whom Umno had allegedly ‘written off’.
Taib went on to prove them wrong retaining 100% all his PBB seats, something that Umno could not do in the 2008 polls.
But victory did not cloud his suspicion of Najib and his men and as quickly as the results were announced Taib got himself sworn, leaving Putrajaya no room to manoeuvre.
PBB is to Sarawak BN what Umno is to the federal coalition and the way they each lord over the other sub-species – coalition partners – stinks of arrogance, according to component party leaders.
It was recently learnt that Taib had allegedly met with Anwar in Singapore in June. But what was to have been “fruitful negotiations” between the two was short-circuited when Taib had to rush back to Kuching for an urgent meeting.
The understanding between the duo was that he would return and continue discussions but that never happened.
Taib left Anwar waiting
The Kuching meeting, it was reliably learnt, was between Taib and a certain emissary from Putrajaya.
Taib never returned to meet with Anwar in Singapore and negotiations were left hanging.
One can only assume that the emissary is linked to Najib and that promises were made and loyalties reiterated.
Things must have gone well seeing Najib and Rosmah Mansor are to break fast in Sarawak with Taib and wife on Friday.
If such indeed is the case, then claims that a slighted Anwar is directly wooing Taib’s men seem to make sense.
It further explains the kneejerk reactions of some Sarawak leaders who have taken every media opportunity to chastise the opposition and claim that the BN coalition is solid when it fact reports of strive within PRS, SPDP and SUPP are rife.
The latest comment was from PBB assemblyman Abdul Karim Hamzah, who is also the State Assistant Minister of Youth Development.
Karim recently declared that Sarawak BN politicians were “not easily swayed” by Anwar’s promises.
He claimed the Sarawak BN leaders were “steadfast and don’t jump parties or sell their soul”.
“Leaders who do that are pariah, without credibility and not fit to be re-elected as they have betrayed the trust of the people who elected them under BN,” he reportedly said.
Ironically it was several of these very “steadfast” BN leaders who had allegedly agreed to join Anwar in his aborted Sept 16, 2008 bid for Putrajaya.
Sabah MP Ghapur Salleh said it best in parliament in 2008 when declared that if not for the number of MPs from Sabah and Sarawak, BN would have lost and Pakatan Rakyat would have managed to get the simple majority to form the new government.
And this time too the churning mill is puking out names – some old, some new – of Sarawak BN leaders who are reading the political signs in Peninsular Malaysia and are wary of the changes taking place.
Among the parliamentarians speculated to be on Anwar’s list are PBB’s Santubung MP Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaffar and Petra Jaya MP Fadhillah Yusuf. Others include MPs Richard Riot (Serian), Tiki Lafe (Mas Gading), Billy Abit Joo (Hulu Rajang).
Each of these leaders have maintained that they are ‘winnable’ incumbents but whether or not their respective parties will field them is another issue.
Anwar has said that Pakatan will wrest Putrajaya with a 10 seat majority and the margin, many believe, will come from Sabah and Sarawak.
To that end Anwar has reportedly been shopping for MPs in Sabah and Sarawak, dangling what Karim describes as ‘carrots’ that are ‘too good to be true’.