Posted: 20 Jun 2012 09:42 AM PDT
The newly-registered Sarawak Workers Party (SWP) is something of an anomaly. This self-proclaimed "BN-friendly" political party is led by a rich man's son, Larry Sng (and is widely understood to be supported by his father, business tycoon Sng Chee Hua). It is hardly a likely contender to represent workers in the state.
Oddly for a "workers' party", SWP is interested only in rural constituencies, having declared an intention to stand in six parliamentary seats in the coming elections, out of Sarawak's total of 31.
These are Selangau, Julau, Lubok Antu, Sri Aman, Hulu Rejang and Kanowit, nearly all in the Iban heartland. The rural voters there are mainly farmers rather than workers, and have not seen much in the way of political awakening or class consciousness.
The Industrial Revolution has yet to hold sway over most of these areas. Workers' rights are somewhat less important than feudal attachments to wealthy political kingpins like Sng and his son.
These rural seats targeted by SWP are the only six constituencies held by Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS), led by James Masing of "Jangan Lawan Towkay" fame.
Sng and his son were once leading figures in PRS, but were turfed out by party president Masing during a leadership struggle in 2009. The bad blood between the Sng mini-dynasty and Masing appears to have boiled over.
Larry became the youngest ever state assembly representative in 2001, when he won the Pelagus seat at the age of 22. His father, a Chinese businessman who made his fortune trading up the mighty Rejang river in Kapit, had vacated the seat for him.
Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud embraced the younger Sng, making him an assistant minister in his cabinet, and protecting him even after Masing expelled him from the PRS.
Taib has a venerable track record of playing crafty divide-and-rule games. Throughout his 30 years in power, he has encouraged so-called "Dayakism" among the leaders of parties like Snap and PBDS, and later, PRS and the SPDP.
He then engineered divisions within these parties, cutting them down to size and ensuring no Dayak-majority party could ever challenge his dominance.
Taib has applied this tactic most fervently when the Dayak majority in Sarawak appears to be uniting against his minority Melanau dynastic rule. This dynasty was established in 1970 by his uncle Abdul Rahman Ya'kub, his predecessor as chief minister.
Throughout the years of "Dayakism" – failed attempts to forge ethnic Dayak unity – Taib has built up various Dayak supremacist parties, and then demolished them.
Taib prodded Snap – a beacon of multi-ethnic politics in the 1970s – into a "Dayakist" split and left it moribund. He then accepted the SPDP, a weakened splinter party from Snap, into the state BN.
Taib also engineered schisms in PBDS, a party that surprised him and nearly toppled him from power in 1987. He buried the Dayak party in 2004.
PRS, the ragged remnant of PBDS, is now a junior "Dayak majority" component, together with the SPDP, in Taib's BN coalition. PRS, it seems, is becoming the new cuckold in the state BN.
Taib is making a clear point to the PRS and Masing that they, too, are dispensible, if they do not toe the line.
'Dayakism' fading fast
The SWP is part of the intricate pattern of racial politics woven by the wily Taib.
It is unsurprising that, according to the Borneo Post, Taib replied to questions about the registration of the SWP by saying: "Well, it is part of the political scene of Sarawak. We have embraced democracy. One more party joins in, why not?"
Even after premier Najib Abdul Razak observed that the SWP ought not to contest against the BN in the upcoming election if it claims to be BN-friendly, Larry appeared unfazed, texting" "I am not surprised by PM's comments. That is for public consumption."
The SWP appears bent on supplanting the PRS in Taib's affections in Sarawak BN. Will it succeed?
In several of the six seats it wants, the SWP may indeed split part of the anti-BN vote, because it may be seen as an alternative to less popular PRS candidates. This would certainly endear the Sngs to Taib.
But in one or two of these seats, such as Hulu Rejang and Kanowit, PKR, the main opposition party in rural areas, may be the beneficiary from a split in the vote for the PRS.
In all these seats, it is unlikely that the SWP will make leave much of a footprint. A similar 'mosquito party', the much diminished Snap, resurrected for the state polls in April 2011, failed to retain its deposit in 26 of the 27 seats it contested.
In the long term, what are the prospects of a new, multi-ethnic, homegrown political party campaigning on policy and ideology, instead of racial supremacy or a blatant attempt to replace a rival in the state ruling coalition? This remains a distant speck on Sarawak's political horizon.
By comparison, established Pakatan Rakyat parties may have limited constituencies, but at least hold certain fundamental principles.
The DAP grew from a position of socialism, the PKR advocated natural justice and multiculturalism, while PAS has championed both Islamic jurisprudence and a welfare state.
What does the SWP stand for? As of now, it appears, its main raison d'être is simple: being BN-friendly.
KERUAH USIT is a human rights activist - 'anak Sarawak, bangsa Malaysia'. This weekly column is an effort to provide a voice for marginalised Malaysians. Keruah Usit can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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