Hornbill Unleashed

November 4, 2009

Sarawak’s renewed political hopes


By Sim Kwang Yang

SARAWAK’S Dayaks seldom feature with any significance in the national imagination of Malaysia, and certainly do not make headlines in the national media. This reflects the political marginalisation of the Dayaks in their home state.

The Dayaks collectively make up nearly half the state’s population, and by the logic of communal politics, they should dominate politics in Sarawak. They did, briefly, during the early years of Merdeka, when their political vehicle was the Sarawak National Party, or SNAP. The president of the party then, Datuk Stephen Kalong Ningkan — an Iban — was the first chief minister of Sarawak, serving from July 1963 to September 1966. He was removed from office by a federally initiated Declaration of Emergency and a constitutional amendment resulting from a protracted constitutional crisis. Since 1970, the office of the chief minister has been held by two Melanau Muslims.

The dream of Dayak leaders since has been the restoration of what they consider their political glory: the installation of a Dayak chief minister. Formed in 1983 as a splinter group from SNAP, the Parti Bangsa Dayak Sarawak (PBDS) was the vehicle for this mission. The PBDS applied and was accepted as a member of the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition.

In the Ming Court affair of 1987, the PBDS left the BN and joined forces with Persatuan Rakyat Malaysia Sarawak (Permas) to form the opposition Maju alliance. They mounted a credible challenge to the BN in the subsequent state elections, but failed to dislodge Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud from office. Campaigning on the nationalist slogan of Dayakism, they won 15 seats, but eight of their elected representatives then defected to join SNAP and Taib’s Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB).

After another unsuccessful election in 1991, the PBDS finally ran out of gas and rejoined the BN in 1994.

More power struggles

A power struggle within SNAP in 2002 led to its deregistration and the formation of the Sarawak Progressive Democratic Party (SPDP), which was registered three days after application.

In 2004, there was another power struggle, this time within the PBDS, following the retirement of their long-serving president, Tan Sri Leo Moggie. Like SNAP, the PBDS was also deregistered; the new splinter, Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS), was formed and registered on the same day. One year later, there was an open acrimonious power struggle within the PRS, and it was resolved only after April 2008.

Tan Sri Leo Moggie (Source: uniten.edu.my)You have to wonder at the power and efficiency of the Registrar of Societies over the fate of political parties. Does this suggest that there are unseen federal government hands working in collusion with the Sarawak chief minister?

And if you’ve had the patience to follow this tale of Dayak politics in Sarawak thus far, what kind of impression would you now have of Dayak politicians?

Many of these Dayak politicians are my long-time personal friends, and I would cringe to criticise them in public. I also have a lot of respect for many well-known Dayak leaders, especially Datuk Seri Daniel Tajem. Whatever his faults may be, he has shown tremendous strength of character and personal integrity in his long and difficult political career.

Nevertheless, one has to painfully conclude that in the evolution of Dayak politics, personal ambition, vested interests, and the inability to forge consensus have fractured and destroyed one Dayak political vehicle after another. Today, they are divided into so many miniscule Dayak parties that they have no hope of realising the dream of having a Dayak chief minister. The nationalist spirit of Dayakism has been all but self-extinguished.

That is a pity. The Dayaks are now wallowing in socioeconomic backwardness, and some consider themselves third-class citizens after the Malay-Melanau Sarawakians and the Chinese Sarawakians. Hundreds of thousands of Dayak youths have left their homes in search of better job prospects in Singapore and West Malaysia, leaving the old and the very young in the longhouses. The rural communities have been stripped of their youthful forces for regeneration. In pockets of abject poverty, alcoholism is rife.

Sarawak’s new dawn?

Recently though, the Dayak community among the educated class and the longhouse folk have been humming with a new kind of excitement.

Slightly more than a month ago, during a dinner in Sibu organised by Friends of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), 4,000 people of all races turned up to welcome Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. They were also witness to a public ceremony in which Gabriel Adit Demong, the current independent Ngemah state assemblyperson and former vice-president of the now-defunct PBDS, submitted his application to join the PKR. His application form was accompanied by 12,000 others.

Another mammoth 6,000-strong sit-down dinner was held on 14 Dec 2008 in Miri. The grand finale should culminate in Kuching on 19 Dec, where 8,000 people are expected to turn up to welcome Anwar. The people of Sarawak are now stretching their necks forward to see whether there will be more elected representatives and Dayak voters joining the PKR.

The term of the present Sarawak state assembly will not expire until 2011. There is current speculation, however, that the next state elections may be held as early as 2010. The success of the PKR in the 8 March 2008 general election has made the party attractive to Dayak politicians and their supporters.

But the PKR is a multiracial party. It would mean that the PKR and Dayakism are mutually exclusive. Perhaps the brand of Dayakism portrayed by the PBDS ought to be laid to rest anyway. Only by building meaningful bridges with other ethnic communities can the Dayaks lift themselves from their political and socioeconomic limbo. In that context, the PKR is indeed a suitable vehicle for the redemption of Dayak politics.

To dethrone Taib and replace the Sarawak BN as the next state government, there must be a congruence of all opposition forces within the state. The divisive bickering between opposition blocs must now indeed end for a new dawn of democracy in the Land of the Hornbill.

The Dayaks of Sarawak will then make headlines again.



  1. I’ve out hunting for the 18-point agreement Sarawak (the illiterate Temenggong Jugah, rather) signed with Malaya during the formation of Malaysia.
    Whatever is being fought for by the Sarawakians has to be against the backdrop of this important document. Strangely, (as far as I know) it is unavailable on the web.
    Can you help me out on this?

    Comment by cruzeiro — November 4, 2009 @ 7:23 PM | Reply

  2. […] from your irrational ways. We would also recommend you to read this from an internet blog,” Sarawak’s renewed political hopes. Many have tried and have failed to challenge the Presidents of respective parties. Will you be […]

    Pingback by Liow “Accept or Resign” « Audie61’s Weblog — November 4, 2009 @ 3:09 PM | Reply

  3. There will always be dogs in every community. How else can UMNO/BN continue to rule n plunder the nation if not for these greedy and unprinciled dogs among man.

    After these many general elections, I still can’t get it. Hope that all dogs will be dead by the time GE13 comes around.

    Comment by Joe Ang — November 4, 2009 @ 1:41 PM | Reply

  4. Gone are the days when Iban of Sarawak can walk and held their head high. The tribe that were once feared as the most fierce tribes in Borneo were now just peasants and pak turut. Just by a flick of a pen and there are gone. When i was young my father told me that firstly they will get our timber slowly then they will chase us away from our land and the final conclusion is that they will make us their slaves on our own land. At first i don’t understand what the heck he was talking about until i went to study abroad. The Maori in NZ the Aborigine in Australia the Natives of America were in our present situation, so what happen to them now.

    When i arrive home to Sarawak i was very upset to see that we are going the same path these Natives of NZ, Australia and America. Many of us were cased away from our land and live in the city and to make matter worst they kept us in a pigeon hole. House accommodation is not even fit for animal to live in. And all the while our YB are saying that Sarawak is developing. People are benefiting from the Govt projects. But honestly for whom is the development for, for us? Hell no.

    Well maybe there is light at the end of the tunnel but so far we are not looking for the light. We are just wondering in the dark that has no ending..Maybe because years of brainwashing and propaganda made us blind or maybe we are just to stupid to help ourselves.

    So my fellow Iban and Dayak alike the warboat is here. Don’t be blinded by the cheap promises of quick fix scheme. Join the struggle now and most importantly register all your family members that are 21 and above. Change we must.

    Comment by Angkau — November 4, 2009 @ 1:30 PM | Reply

  5. Leo Moggie and Daniel Tajem were the closest in establishing the pride of Dayaks in Sarawak. It was rather unfortunate they failed in the Ming Court affairs. As a non Dayak, I respected them deeply during that time. It was sad that Leo succumed to realism and joined the BN and became the Fderal Minister, not giving him much of a time to get close to his fellow men in Sarawak and his respect dwindled. Daniel ended up as Ambarsidor to New Zealand. He came back few years later. Though he tried again but the State BN was too deep rooted for him to make any impact. I still respect Daniel,to me a man of principle and a feeling for his fellow men. Time and tide waited for no man, just like SKY, their golden era which the energy and zeal were at the highest have gone past. Let us see if qwe can find Dayaks of their calibre surface in the next generation. As a Chinese I still treasured the carefree days during my schooling time in mixing with them. The Dayaks are still easier to mix in view of their common stand through Christianity and no food restriction.

    The non radical view of the Muslims in Sarawak during the old days when we could all share our laughter together now gets more polarised. It is sad to see that they are drifting further from the rest of Sarawakians. Hopefully we also can see Muslims like the good old days with the honest intention of sharing with every one our very own Sarawak in the next generation.

    I was born as a Sarawakian and will die as one.

    Comment by Hope — November 4, 2009 @ 12:17 PM | Reply

  6. It’s very disappointing how we in East Malaysia evolved over the years. When we were a British colony, we the local population at least feel that we were all equal. No doubt there were some sort of divide between town and rural folks but it was rather more a social divide, not a racial one. And religion was certainly never an issue. Civil servants including teachers, police were then morally upright and well respected by all. Things just seem to slide after we joined the federation. Racism and religion becomes the new mantra used to divide and rule. Corruption becomes rampant and the civil service including the police, judiciary and now even doctors have become stooges of the Umno led government. All for the sake of power and money and to hell with principle and moral. The way some of our politicians and civil servants act, with one hand praying and the other dipping into our treasury are really sickening. Sometimes we wonder if these people really believe in God at all. At the end of the day, the question we should ask is, why do we keep voting these thieves to continue to bully and steal from us? Are we that stupid?

    Comment by Ah Beng — November 4, 2009 @ 10:26 AM | Reply

  7. It is same here in the Peninsular – it is always the community leaders who sell out their own people. Personal interests supercedes that of community. Indans, Chinese, Ibans, Khadazans etc are all the same. They allowed the Malay and Muslims to do what that pleased in return for crumbs. They prefer to be servants and sell their dignity to their Malays lords.

    Comment by Sam01 — November 4, 2009 @ 9:12 AM | Reply

  8. Ibans Dayaks Kadazans Dusuns wake-up because the spirit of 1963 is finally been recognized and declared as a national public holiday from next year 2010 and coincidently it is an election year for Sarawak, so be prepared and ready for a wind of change.

    Comment by Golden Son of Kadazan — November 4, 2009 @ 7:55 AM | Reply

  9. The struggles of the Sarawak Natives are unenviable. While having to come to terms that racial divides are no longer politically correct, they must also confront the fact that as a group they are not as progressive as they should be. Therefore the future of the people lie in the benevolence of the leadership. A leadership that have the moral will, not to exploit but to promote.

    Half a century of BN dominance has proved fruitless, whether they will continue in a self defeating spiral by reelecting the BN is the million dollar question.

    Comment by Homeboy — November 4, 2009 @ 7:47 AM | Reply

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