Social Development Minister William Mawan Ikom, who is also Sarawak Progressive Democratic Party (SPDP) president, is in the biggest ‘dilemma’ of his political life, after Meluan assemblyperson Wong Judat and his followers abandoned the party in early September this year.
Judat and his group’s departure was the third stage of mass resignations.
The first was when its secretary-general Sylvester Entri, who is the Marudi assemblyperson was sacked from the party in October last year for gross indiscipline. Several hundreds of Entri’s supporters in Marudi also subsquently resigned.
And the third stage was when three other assemblypersons namely Peter Nansian (Tasik Biru), Rosey Yunus (Bekenu) and Paulus Gumbang (Batu Danau) and their supporter left the party one month later as a result of Entri’s expulsion.
Also leaving the party were the MP for Mas Gading, Tiki Lafe, and his supporters.
Now after five Dewan Undangan Negeri (DUN) members resigned or were expelled, Mawan is the only state assemblyperson left behind. The party has three MPs remaining, namely Jelaing Mersat (Saratok), Jacob Sagan Dunggau (Baram) and Tiong King Sing (Bintulu), after Tiki left.
While the five ex-SPDP leaders, popularly known as ‘G5’, have now formed ‘Kelab BN Sarawak’, Judat is now a senior vice-president of the newly registered Sarawak Workers Party led by Larry Sng, the former Pelagus assemblyperson.
‘Kelab BN Sarawak an insult to BN’
With the departure of these senior leaders from the party, Mawan is not only fighting for his dignity and respect, he is also fighting to keep the party from disintegration.
He saw the ‘incident’ during the birthday do of the Yang Dipertua Negeri Tun Abang Muhammad in Miri on Sept 8 as a deliberate attempt to ridicule and undermine his party.
There, he had become angry when he saw a delegation of his ex-SPDP leaders and members under the banner of ‘Kelab BN Sarawak’ (KBNS) standing side by side with a delegation from his party during the birthday parade.
What made him angry was that although the KBNS was an alleged illegal organisation, it was allowed by the event organisers not only to take part in the parade, but was also arranged to stand side by side with the SPDP delegation.
In a press conference, Mawan expressed the seriousness and the implication of the presence of the self-proclaimed ‘Kelab BN Sarawak’ delegation in the parade.
“As a component member of BN, we view this seriously. We view their inclusion as an insult and ridicule to the BN. They have undermined the very principle of BN solidarity.
“We found such public display of arrogance to BN and our party, unacceptable,” he said, and questioned the event organiser in allowing this act of sabotage to the BN spirit of solidarity to happen.
“It is very perplexing, very disturbing and intolerable,” he added.
“We seek an immediate explanation from the event organiser and the State BN secretary-general for allowing the group’s participation in a prestigious state event,” Mawan said, pointing out that he wanted the police and Registrar of Societies (ROS) to investigate.
While his outburst is understandable, but there nothing much he can do about it. The presence of the members of KBNS has the sanction of Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud and Abang Johari Tun Openg, who is chairman of the birthday celebrations and Housing and Tourism minister.
Moreover, the KBNS leaders are not only the ordinary elected representatives, some of whom are assistant ministers and chairmen of government-linked companies, but they are also known as ‘PBB (Parti Pesaka-Bumiputra Bersatu Sarawak) men’. As such they have the right to attend Salahuddin’s function.
“What can Mawan do? Even his own ministerial duties have been reduced. He was once the Social Development and Urbanisation Minister, but now he is only the Social Development Minister whose functions are very limited,” said an ex-SPDP leader who did not wish to be named.
“As if to add salt to injury, Chief Minister retains Nansian, Entri and Yunus as assistant ministers and appointed Gumbang as the chairman of Miri Port authority, even though they are strictly partyless,” said the former leader.
From the actions and attitudes of BN leaders, especially those from PBB which forms the backbone of the government, they have little regard or respect for Mawan as his party has now become a ‘mosquito’ party.
In one particular incident in Marudi last year, Mawan was even prevented from going to longhouses to explain government policies, although one time ago the longhouses were the party’s stronghold.
He could only visit those longhouses after he sought help from Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.
With all these developments, the questions being asked are: Is SPDP becoming irrelevant? Should it close shop? Or should it join forces with the opposition?
SPDP secretary-general Nelson Balang Rining took pains to explain that the party was still relevant to society.
“Those who question its relevance are also trying to play down BN’s relevance to society. BN is a coalition of political parties,” said Rining.
Only ‘winnable’ candidates
However, political pundits believe SPDP is heading for bigger troubles in the coming general election as there is an air of uncertainty in the four parliamentary constituencies (Mas Gading, Saratok, Baram and Bintulu) that have been allocated to the party.
The four candidates that the party has recommended may not be approved by BN chairman Najib Abdul Razak.
Najib wants only ‘winnable’ candidates.
Mawan’s recommendation of Anthony Nogih, Sarawak Land Consolidation and Rehabilitation Authority (SALCRA) deputy general manager, for the Mas Gading seat may be rejected as it is difficult for him to win.
Najib may choose the incumbent MP Tiki Lafe, a member of BN Kelab and an ex-SPDP vice-president as the candidate.
The three-term MP is still popular.
Even if Nogih is chosen over Tiki, it is uncertain whether Tiki’s supporters, who are anti-SPDP and Mawan, will vote for Nogih, not to mention the anti-BN feelings of native landowners whose land have been forcibly taken away and leased to oil palm companies.
In Saratok, Mawan has re-nominated Jelaing Mersat to defend the seat. It is reported that Mersat who is the Deputy Minister of Transport is not too keen. Some 13 aspirants are waiting in the wings.
What worried Mawan is that the man the BN finally picks as the candidate may come from outside his party. Worse, he could be a man heavily leaning towards PBB.
Mawan has bitter experiences with PBB men contesting as SPDP candidates. The crisis involving Nansian, Entri, Rosey, Gumbang and Tiki is a case in point.
In Baram, his preferred candidate Dunggau is facing an uphill battle due to the people’s strong opposition against the proposed construction of the Baram dam that will drown26 longhouses and villages and an area of 389 sq km, which is more than half the size of Singapore island (660 sq hectares). Some 20,000 people will be displaced by the dam.
These displaced persons are waiting to ‘teach’ BN a lesson come the general election.
Mawan who visited the constituency recently admitted the tough fight is in store for BN.
Perhaps, SPDP and BN may be able to retain the Bintulu parliamentary seat. But if we compare the combined 11,839 votes obtained by BN candidates in Jepak and Kemena in the last state election against 12,493 votes obtained by DAP in Kidurong, we can see that DAP has an edge in the Bintulu parliamentary constituency.
The situation as of now is 50:50. Victory can go either side depending on the personalities and the issues that are to be raised during the campaign.
Thus, the results of the coming election are really crucial to SPDP. If it wins the four seats, it will help restore its dignity and influence; otherwise it should be prepared to join the ranks of Sarawak National Party (SNAP) and Sarawak’s State Reform Party (STAR) which have now become irrelevant.