Wednesday 25 May 2011

Still at a loss over Sarawak polls results

Aidila Razak
May 25, 11

At the tail end of last month's Sarawak election campaign, Pakatan Rakyat leader Anwar Ibrahim addressed a press conference with an almost jubilant demeanour.

Buoyed by what positive responses the opposition got around the Borneo state, Anwar claimed that Pakatan Rakyat could even deny BN two-thirds majority in the Sarawak legislature.

But as the results came out, pin-drop silence enveloped the PKR headquarters in Kuching, with morose party workers collating numbers which, until today, Anwar says remain dumbfounding.

Of the 49 seats it contested, PKR won only three.

"I knew there would be rigging, but I am at a loss for (answers) on how and why it ended up that way.

NONE"Some of the longhouse residents have woken up politically, you talked to the people and saw that they were quite genuine... I didn't think there was something wrong.

"I don't know, except for the fact that the Election Commission would have the answer," he said.

While PKR's improvement from one seat to three in the state assembly was a commendable effort, Pakatan partner DAP's victory in 12 of 15 seats it contested was a stunning outcome that changed the face of Sarawak politics.

To some extent, the DAP's stellar performance also shifted the equilibrium in Sarawak Pakatan, causing a rustling that was most recently apparent in the announcement of the state's shadow cabinet.

Political observers are also holding their breath as DAP moves into merger talks with the Sarawak National Party (Snap), despite the very public fallout between PKR and the Dayak party.

In this excerpt from Malaysiakini's exclusive interview with Anwar, the PKR de facto leader weighs in on these issues, in addition to giving a lengthy explanation on his party's thorny episode with Snap.

The content has been edited for language and brevity.

Malaysiakini: The last time we spoke to you in Sarawak, you were confident of even denying BN two-thirds majority in the state assembly. That did not pan out. What happened?

NONEAnwar: Yes, I was pleased with Ba'Kelalan, where we were able to penetrate most of the rural heartland, but you look at (PKR's Ba'Kelalan victor) Baru Bian (right) and (PKR's Krian constituency victor) Ali Biju - both actually had better machinery, and worked earlier and harder.

They had loyal supporters, funding and even people (as polling agents) to monitor the counting of ballot papers. Nobody can tell us if there was actually a transparent manner in counting the votes. I knew there would be rigging, but I am at a loss for (answers) on how and why it ended up that way.

Some of the longhouse residents had woken up politically, you talked to the people and saw that they were quite genuine... I didn't think there was something wrong.

I don't know, except for the fact that the Election Commission would have the answer.

You contested 49 seats and won only three. Would you have performed better if you had made peace with Snap?

(PKR) left this entirely to (Sarawak PKR chief) Baru and the team of Dayak guys, and they had very strong issues (against Snap). It is not just a matter of them being from a different party, but whether or not this group of people (from Snap) can be trusted.

So how did we deal with it? I took a very soft line... well, finally (deputy president) Azmin (Ali) went with a mandate that PKR must be able to speak with Snap against the advice of the Dayak leaders, but this was never reflected in any of the (media) reports, which I think is unfair, because it was interpreted that we were trying to dictate things.

You see, there was an agreement in writing, where Snap only agreed to contest three seats, and then they asked us if it is possible to have another three. It was signed a few months before the election by (Snap president) Stanley (Jugol).

Then, when the Kuala Lumpur 'experts' (backers of Snap) went in, they changed their position.

NONEIt is not a matter of us giving them or not giving them seats. I saw some of the areas as very weak for us and it was better for us to concede.

But then the Dayak leaders told us, why concede to people who will not stay with Pakatan? This is a very serious allegation.

It is true - the general perception is, you have 40 seats already, so why are you quarrelling?

Not just PKR leaders, but the Dayak civil society came and sent a strong message. They said, "Anwar, would you tolerate working with any independent candidate and party, that you do not have confident that they stay with you in Pakatan? Haven't you learnt your lessons with your jumping frogs?"

What did I say? It was not easy. I said, "Well, I don't know the situation, but the general perception here is that you must be seen to be more humble and negotiate."

They said, "What makes you think we are not prepared to negotiate?" And then they gave me evidence that this figure who is against Pakatan was seen with Stanley.

In hindsight, should we have still conceded? I don't know.

So, initially you wanted to concede?

Yes, yes. In fact, (we wanted to concede) six plus-plus seats. Not (just) six.

This a very much a trust issue?

Yes, I mean Dayak politics were also... to be fair to them, (the Dayaks) also had views on this too and it went to the Pakatan council, and the brief from (the leaders) was still to go down and negotiate. So I had to call Baru to say, "You must allow Azmin to proceed" and Baru said, "Okay, I will back off a bit".

Baru said if he appeared (in the negotiations), he would have problems with his people.

If it is a trust issue, then what do you make of DAP now offering to merge with Snap?

That's okay. I think the statements must be seen in the context that DAP wants to be portrayed as a multiracial party, etc. I don't think we should be so negative in reacting to this.

DAP also got the message from the Dayak leaders. I think the merger could probably be not with the whole party (Snap), but to bring in some individuals.

So I think we should give some leeway or space for DAP to discuss. The issue is, when discussions are done in public, then the (PKR) reaction is (it) not to proceed.

I told this to the DAP leaders. I said, "You can proceed, but the perception is, you're going with the party that lost its deposits, you're going with a party that is questionable - in terms of its position and desire (of whether) to be with Pakatan, to be truly independent, or somewhere in between."

NONEYou remember there was so much pressure for us to support the independent candidate against (Sarawak Chief Minister) Abdul Taib Mahmud. Because (former deputy education minister and ex-PBB leader) Salleh Jafaruddin (left) has more funds and the family factor (Salleh is Taib's cousin) so I thought, okay. Contrary to my public speeches, I considered it a bit in many ways.

(Someone) showed me this report. He was interviewed, in which he said, "I oppose Taib and BN in Sarawak, but I support Najib and BN in federal." So we could not proceed with supporting his candidacy.

But for those who didn't know, they attacked us, saying we were greedy.

The result of the election somewhat changed the equation. DAP won more seats, PKR is no longer seen as the big boy (in Sarawak). How do you feel about that?

PAS is very small, but in all meetings and discussions, we must all be kept fully informed. You must not ignore the importance or need to recognise the role of each party, no matter how big or small.

NONEDAP's victory was (on the back of) mainly ethnic Chinese support. That was how (Batu Lintang victor) See Chee How (left) won with an impressive victory in the name of PKR.
He is basically an ethnic Chinese representing a multiracial party. So you can sense the mood among the Chinese voters, which to me is a positive point.

That is why when it comes to the... shadow cabinet, we took a softer line. The younger guys sometimes get excited, and we can understand this, but here is how we resolve this - we don't resolve according to senior or junior party.

For every single portfolio, we have a team there that can be called in. Why should a shadow cabinet be like that in the UK? Why are we so obsessed with the whole idea? It is only necessary in so far as having a team to monitor the portfolio.

You were the one who mooted the shadow cabinet.

No, shadow committee - we said shadow committee, to make sure that every single committee is well represented (by all component parties). We don't have the dominance of one party or one group; these activities must be well-understood at all levels if you want Pakatan to work.

So, in the case of Sarawak where you have the shadow cabinet announced, DAP is quite obviously dominant...

NONEYes, probably in the Sarawak context it is okay, but don't forget the ramifications nationwide. It just reaffirms this campaign by Utusan (Malaysia) and Perkasa. But to be fair to (DAP Sarawak chief) Wong Ho Leng (in red shirt), he did present the issue to the committee.

You must allow it, not only representation, but you must also give credence. I mean I took a big risk with the Muslim crowd, endorsing (Baru) as the prospective chief minister, but they relegated him a very small portfolio.

There must be representation, particularly the Dayak and Malays should be well-represented and have strong seats in key portfolios. But let them (Sarawak Pakatan) deal with it... they are still discussing, although it has quietened down now.

A lot of people question why Pakatan cannot form a shadow cabinet. There is a lot of sensitivity involved. Some may feel that a shadow minister can eventually be the actual minister, and this could create tension between the parties.
This is partly true, but why the obsession of one person being a spokesperson (for a portfolio)? Why can't we work on a common position? Who do you want to appease with the idea of a shadow cabinet? The elite and professionals? When it comes to the masses, they want policies, so let's work as a team.

Economic policy, distributive justice, affirmative action... all these, to my mind, is a learning curve and we can agree on broad parameters.

I am quite happy with the second line of leadership. (PKR secretary-general) Saifuddin (Nasution), (DAP publicity chief) Tony Pua, (PKR vice-president) Tian (Chua) and (PAS central executive committee member) Dzulkefly Ahmad... that team works well and they are quite thorough - that shows the need not to promote just one person, that we should work together to outline policies.

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