By Baradan Kuppusamy
ANALYSIS, March 17 — Aggrieved by the meagre three seats it was allocated for the coming state election by Pakatan Rakyat (PR), the Sarawak National Party (SNAP) has announced it will now contest 40 seats independently.
The impasse, if not soon resolved, will injure PR’s chances of loosening Sarawak Barisan Nasional’s (BN) stranglehold on the state, with multi-cornered contest that would split the opposition votes.
Founded in 1961, SNAP is the grand old dame of Sarawak politics and had dominated politics there for several decades before its fortunes declined.
At its height, it supplied Sarawak’s first chief minister, the Iban hero Stephen Kalong Ningkan.
SNAP has history and former glories behind it when it walks in the state’s interior, and natives continue to recognise the party and accord it due respect.
For PR to allocate SNAP only three of the 71 seats up for grabs in the upcoming Sarawak state election is a sure recipe for politic disaster, political observers said.
Sarawak bloggers and political commentators are divided over whether to take SNAP seriously or consider it also-rans.
Either way, SNAP is thoroughly angered by the alleged “insult”, which they blame on PR de facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, who they say was being counselled by land rights activist and Sarawak PKR, Baru Bian.
On Tuesday, an unhappy SNAP called a press conference in Kuching and announced it will contest 40 seats. It also named 16 top party leaders as candidates for 16 of the seats.
The rest, said party president Edwin Dundang, would be named soon.
The move is effectively a parting of ways between SNAP and Sarawak PR, which comprises Peninsular-Malaysia based PKR, DAP and PAS.
But much of SNAP’s ire is directed at the Sarawak PKR chapter.
“PKR, without mandate, took the role of the leading the opposition in Sarawak and announced it would contest in 52 seats, leaving SNAP a miserable three seats to contest,” Dundang said.
“PKR is riding roughshod over SNAP. It is unwarranted and unbecoming,” he said expressing the party’s deep hurt.
“We are now considering all options including getting out of the opposition front,” he warned
SNAP officials also told The Malaysian Insider yesterday that “there is nothing to stop us from even contesting all 71 seats.”
“We blame Anwar for this insult,” said a senior SNAP leader. “He is listening to people like Baru Bian who is a political novice. They think there is a tsunami in Sarawak like the 2008 in peninsular.”
“Maybe about 65 per cent of Chinese voters in about 17 or 18 urban seats might vote for DAP but there is four times that many rural seats that has to be won if Taib is to be defeated,” the senior leader said referring to PBB chief president and Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Taib Mahmud.
Bian’s unofficial spot at the head of Sarawak PR has been met with resistance from SNAP leaders, who allege he is managing opposition politics in Sarawak when he should be concentrating on handling PKR.
SNAP leaders further say they have a better chance at winning if allowed to take the lead.
“PKR is weak; they don’t have network or money. They only have Anwar’s name and Bian’s credibility. These are not going to bring the votes,” said one SNAP leader
There is no opposition to the DAP contesting the mostly Chinese-majority urban seats in the state, taking on the battered SUPP, which is considered the MCA of Sarawak.
Party insiders said the DAP has a good chance of wresting at least 15 of the seats on the back of overwhelming support for urban voters.
PAS is expected to contest in a few seats as a token.
That leaves either PKR or SNAP to take on the PBB-PBRS-SPDP-PRS juggernaut
SNAP leaders see themselves as the main challenger to the combine and hopes to overthrow the status-quo, seize power and take control of the government.
The PKR, under Bian, also views itself in a similar political role, casting the party as the dominant political power to challenge PBB and oust the long-serving Taib.
The DAP has been more grounded, opting for the smaller task of tackling the SUPP while PKR and SNAP are sidetracked by dreams of grandeur.
The general opinion in Sarawak is that PKR should contest anywhere from 20 to 25 “winnable” interior seats, leaving the rest to SNAP.
“DAP should go for all 19 Chinese-majority seats while PAS should stay out,” said a political observer who is a lecturer in a university here.
“This is the kind of political compromise that would give voters confidence and a chance to kick out Taib,” he said.
“It is really unrealistic for PKR to contest in 52 seats… they simply don’t have the means, the network and the local support base,” the academic said, pointing out that in 10 years of contesting, PKR has only ever won one Sarawak seat. – The Malaysian Insider