Sarawak DAP says can’t sit back, wait for PKR to push into Dayak seats

The Sarawak elections are set to take place by April but Pakatan Harapan here is showing little progress in resolving seat allocations claims with state DAP chairman Chong Chieng Jen admitting the party was in “competition” with PKR. 

This was Chong’s description of the situation between the DAP’s Bornean chapter and the state PKR, when asked to describe the ties between the two Pakatan Harapan parties feuding over seat allocations ahead of the state elections. 

“We are cooperating but also competing to perform. We are cooperating by trying to reach a one-to-one (straight fights) in seats,” he said. 

“But we also cannot just sit back and be contented and complacent when we know not much work has been done to further (the) political struggle in rural areas. 

“Are we to wait in our comfort zones for PKR to start really going to the rural areas to bring political awareness? It would be irresponsible for us to wait,” Chong told The Malaysian Insider in a recent interview in Kuching. 

PKR and DAP in Sarawak have had frosty ties and while moves have been made to begin negotiations for 82 constituencies, little headway appears to have been made as the former accuses the latter of wanting to steal rural seats it has already been cultivating. 

DAP had a stellar performance in the last state elections in 2011, winning 12 seats – all in urban areas – out of the 15 allocated to it. 

PKR netted a dismal three out of 49 seats contested – the rural seat of Ba’kelalan by its state chairman Baru Bian, the Chinese-majority urban seat of Batu Lintang by its vice-chairman See Chee How and rural Dayak-majority seat of Krian by Ali Biju. DAP is now asking for 35 to 40 seats, including the 12 it already has.

 In March last year, he said, the party was eyeing 30 seats. PKR’s position for the current seat talks is to begin negotiations with the same number of seats it was allocated in the last elections.

Chong said both sides have exchanged their list of seats “and there will be discussions”. He declined to reveal more details, except to say that an agreement must be reached before nomination day. 

The polls must be held by June when the current term of the Sarawak assembly expires.

 The state legislature now has 82 seats, an increase of 11 following the controversial redelineation of seat boundaries by the Election Commission. 

     
The time frame leaves a narrow window for both parties to resolve disputes over who should field candidates in certain seats, particularly Dayak or indigenous seats, which PKR says it has worked hard to cultivate. 

The dispute mirrors the good reception towards DAP’s rural infrastructure initiative, Impian Sarawak, its vehicle to expand its influence in the interiors.

 Chong shot down PKR’s claims of working the ground in rural seats long before DAP came in, saying Impian Sarawak has had a greater reach compared with similar efforts by PKR. 

“Our reach is wider in that we have education and medical camps, besides helping to build infrastructure.

“Their initiatives are done under non-governmental organisations like Light Up Borneo and Barefoot Mercy. Ok, you can do that, but where is the political message? 

“At the end of the day, the most important thing is the political message for the kampung people, for that is where you bring about political change. When we do a rural project, we highlight that it should have been the Barisan Nasional (BN) government’s responsibility and they have failed.  

“These are messages that must be sent out consistently over a period of time, and only then will political change slowly come to the rural areas,” said Chong, who is also the Kuching parliamentarian and Kota Sentosa assemblyman. 

Asked about Impian Sarawak’s reach, Chong said they have gone to some 30 to 40 villages, adding that the party’s Sarawak chapter, comprising “several thousand members”, now has more Dayak than Chinese members. 

In October last year, Sarawak PKR’s Abun Sui Anyit said the party was “wary of the state DAP as they can’t be trusted”. 

But Chong is not letting go of PKR’s poor showing of just three seats in the 2011 elections when it was allocated the bulk of seats.  

“My response to that is no area belongs to any party, especially when you have not won the seat,” he said.

“Our philosophy is that if you want to contest in an area, you start working in that area and not during election time. 

“So we started work (in Dayak areas) right after the 2013 general election when everybody was still depressed over the opposition’s failure to capture Putrajaya.

“That’s when we started Impian Sarawak.” – January 24, 2016.