Never in history has a BN chairman played ‘god’ when it came to election candidates but embattled Najib Tun Razak is leaving nothing to chance.
Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, who is said to be more concerned about his own political survival and that of his Barisan Nasional government, is playing with fire in Sarawak where his ‘final say’ in the selection of candidates is irking BN’s local allies.
Previous prime ministers, who were also chairmen of the BN, merely endorsed the nominations submitted by the various component members.
Never before has a PM played ‘god’ and made such unilateral decisions pushing aside component party leaders’ judgments.
But under Najib, the situation is different.
With his government under threat from opposition Pakatan Rakyat, he recently told leaders of the BN component parties – during the BN supreme council meeting last month – that he would choose all the candidates to ensure that he and his government would return to power.
“I don’t want your favourite persons to become candidates. What is the point of nominating your favourite persons when at the end of the day your candidates lose and the government also loses?
“All I want is winnable candidates, and this time I will do the selection,” he was reported to have told the BN leaders.
But his “I will do the selection” stand is worrying the presidents of the respective parties in BN especially Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) and Sarawak Progressive Democratic Party (SPDP) as there appears to be uncertainty in the candidate selection.
“What we worry most is that the candidates from our party and nominated by our party may not be the candidates in the final selection.
“Instead candidates from outside the party may be selected.
“Worse, if they are politically leaning towards PBB (Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu which is led by Chief Minister Taib Mahmud). This will further weaken us and strengthen PBB,” said a worried senior leader of PRS who requested anonymity.
Undermining local leaders
His anxiety is shared by a SPDP leader.
The SPDP leader said that his party was already suffering from this ‘political leanings’ when its candidates were deprived of the opportunity to contest and were replaced with those who ‘associated’ to PBB.
“And these people later caused so much problems to our party,” he said, asking not to be identified.
The leader was referring to state assemblymen Peter Nansian (Tasik Biru), Sylvester Entri (Marudi), Paulus Gumbang (Batu Danau), Rosey Yunus (Bekenu) and Tiki Lafe who is the MP for Mas Gading.
The five who are allegedly pro-PBB were expelled from the party in November last year for gross insubordination.
Likewise PRS was also robbed of its nomination for Lubok Antu and Sri Aman constituencies in the 2008 parliamentary election.
Following Najib’s ruling, there are now uncertainties in constituencies like Mas Gading, Saratok, Hulu Rajang, Julau, Selangau, Baram and Kanowit.
Although names have been submitted, there are those who are claiming to be better candidates.
SPDP president William Mawan Ikom has meanwhile submitted two names to Najib for the Mas Gading seats.
The candidates are Anthony Nogih who is the deputy general manager of Sarawak Land Consolidation and Rehabilitation Authority (Salcra) and Henry Jinep, a businessman.
The incumbent in Mas Gading is Tiki Lafe, who claims that he is winnable.
PRS, SPDP candidates ‘no say’
This being the case Najib, will not necessarily pick any one of Mawan’s candidates. He may re-nominate Tiki Lafe as the candidate.
If this happens, it will not make SPDP leaders and members happy.
The situation is the same in Saratok.
Although Mawan has repeatedly said that incumbent Jelaing Mersat will be retained to defend the seat, there are rumours that he may be dropped.
Due to the uncertainty, 13 persons including those who are backed by PBB are now coming forward to ‘test the waters’.
According to sources from Saratok, the names frequently mentioned by the voters include Mersat, Enturan Anak Luta, (a businessman), Dr James Chela, (medical practitioner), Chambai Lindong (lawyer), Dr James Jeluing (civil servant), Kenneth Kunjan (engineer), Dr. Geluma Saban (lecturer), Jasmy Sadan (former bank officer and closely connected to PBB), Banyi Briak (former SPDP executive secretary), Kilat Briak (lawyer), Friday Belik (civil servant), Nicholas Ansi (civil servant) and Barbara William, daughter of SPDP president.
Mersat, on his part, has dismissed rumours of a new candidate.
Describing these speculations as “baseless” he said: “The people should ignore such talks (of a new candidate) as they are baseless.
“I am not losing sleep over the rumours..it is common when election is around the corner.”
Confusion on the ground
In Hulu Rajang, the voters are also confused as Billy Abit Joo, the incumbent MP and Wilson Ugak Kumbong are claiming to have the support of the prime minister to be the BN candidate.
PRS president James Masing said that Abit Joo is to be dropped after he had served the constituency for five terms and his place will be given to his Ugak, his private secretary.
According to Masing, the prime minister has consented to Ugak being the candidate.
Abit Joo on the other hand claimed that he had been given RM3.5 million by the Prime Minister for him to dish out to the voters for minor rural projects.
This is where the confusion comes in.
Similarly, there is also an air of uncertainty in Julau, Selangau and Kanowit where the current MPs might be replaced even though their party (PRS) has nominated them.
For now nobody knows who Najib will choose.