History of the Sarawak dilemma

It was interesting to hear Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad blaming the Malays for the predicament of being left in the backwaters.

Speaking at the ‘Malay Dignity Congress’ in Shah Alam last week he said even though the Malays comprise 60 percent of the country’s population, they have lost control of power because of factionalism.

Despite being given opportunities by the NEP, the Malays have squandered their special privileges over the last generation.

“When we created opportunities, they transferred it to others,” Dr Mahathir lamented.

The world’s oldest prime minister had reason to be disappointed because of the economic imbalance between Malaysia’s haves and have-nots.

In April 2018 he said people of Sabah and Sarawak were lazy because they have a poor mentality of wanting to take the easy way out.

The PH chairman said they need to work harder to reduce the economic gap with those in the peninsula.

This drew the ire of United Pasokmomogun Kadazandusun and Murut Organisation president Datuk Seri Wilfred Madius Tangau who responded by saying is was wrong to make such claims adding: “We work as hard as anyone else and it is our culture to do our best for us and our family.”

He blamed Dr Mahathir for the predicament of East Malaysians because he did not do much during his previous tenure in office.

The Sabahan who was then Science, Technology and Innovation Minister under the BN government added: “Our ethos, mentality and integrity cannot be questioned — especially from Mahathir who had taken our resources to build his glamour projects in Peninsular Malaysia such as the KLCC, Putrajaya and his Formula One race course.”

However, Dr Mahathir’s comments may not have been fully understood because it was not aimed at the native Kadazandusun community but a segment of some under the influence of Umno who had practically robbed Sabah blind.

He was quick to counter what he was alleged to have said and blamed it on the media.

“I never said the people of Sabah and Sarawak are lazy. It was a media report that said it, not me. I would be crazy to say that if I wanted them to support the Opposition.

“What I did say was that the leaders, especially from Sabah, are very greedy. That is why they have stolen some money from the government,” Dr Mahathir told reporters.

But four months ago Utilities Minister Datuk Seri Dr Stephen Rundi came out guns blazing by taking some “chest-beating” natives to task whom he said were victims of their own ‘ego’.

“Why are we like this? Longhouses are split and more Dayak associations mushrooming because we want to be the leader. When we see others rising up, we would try to pull them down.”

To understand Sarawak politics one must go back in history to 1963 in the days of the uneasiness over the power-sharing formula.

In those fledgling years, the Iban-based SNAP were kingpins and the Malay-Melanau Parti Bumiputera the next strongest party. A third coalition member of the Sarawak Alliance was SCA.

Refusing to join the Alliance was the communist-influenced SUPP which adopted a ‘wait and see’ attitude.

All was well until Parti Bumiputera, unaccustomed to the style of governance of Sarawak’s first Dayak Chief Minister Tan Sri Stephen Kalong Ningkan, planned to topple him.

The opportunity came when in 1965 Ningkan tried to initiate a land reform law to allow native customary land to be titled. This would have enabled the poor community to sell their land, even to the cash-rich Chinese.

And at that time, Sarawak was undergoing a communist insurgency and Confrontation against the pro-communist government of Indonesia’s President Sukarno.

By the end of Sept 1966 Ningkan was removed and became a powerful Dayak opposition party while Sukarno was toppled by pro-Islamic President Suharto.

After the 1970 state elections Pesaka — another powerful Iban faction — posed a threat to the Alliance-led Parti Bumiputera which planned to join forces with SNAP and SUPP.

But, they were persuaded to change their minds and in 1973 Pesaka merged with Parti Bumiputera to form the powerful PBB. A year later SUPP and PBB became Sarawak’s BN coalition.

On June 1, 1974 SNAP’s new president Datuk Amar James Wong Kim Min was detained under the ISA on the trumped-up charge he wanted to sell Limbang to Brunei.

During his two years in detention some of the SNAP leaders were already making deals with powerful Bumiputera politicians who promised them ‘position and power if they returned to the BN fold’.

When Wong was released in 1976, new SNAP leader Datuk Amar Dunstan Endawie Enchana, was appointed Deputy Chief Minister of Sarawak.

In 1979, Endawie resigned as SNAP leader, leaving a vacuum and potential in-fighting as two camps were formed — one led by Wong and the other, Endawie’s nominee Tan Sri Leo Moggie.

By 1983, Endawie had already been promoted to be Malaysia’s ambassador to New Zealand as SNAP prepared for its triennial general assembly.

By this time the rot had set in; Wong won the party election and became SNAP president for a second time and Moggie was leader of the newly-formed PBDS whose focus was on ‘dayakism’ — a war cry which was established to help the community escape the poverty trap.

In the words of Prof Dr Jayum Empaling, ‘dayakism’ was a communal consciousness aimed at drawing up a programme to help in the economic and political advancement of the Dayak community.

He wrote: “ … ‘dayakism’ may be interpreted as a mixture of Dayak chauvinism and protest against long neglect and marginalisation.”

Although the dayakism ideals were noble, it developed into a full-blown political crisis which included the alleged buying of assemblyman at RM1 million per candidate and the eventual defeat in the 1987 state election, and PBDS’s ultimate downfall.

Among the participants in the 1987 political coup were individuals involved in Sarawak’s 1966 constitutional crisis and by this time leaders of both rival groups — one leading PBB and the other, the opposition Permas coalition.

Coincidentally, the prime minister then, Dr Mahathir, stayed out of the ‘family clash’, leaving Sarawak to solve its own problems.

Even as Malaysia missed Dr Mahathir’s envisaged 2020 Vision, Sarawak continues to be neglected by federal leaders.

In less than two years Sarawak will be preparing for battle royale in the 2021 state election.

Sarawakians need to stay united for this ‘mother of all elections’. 

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.