By Joseph Tawie
KUCHING: Sarawak National Party’s (SNAP) upcoming triennial general assembly (TGA) on Sept 24 and 25 is likely to decide the direction the party will take as it moves to redefine its political identity.
Some 60 delegates will attend the assembly and on their shoulders rests the responsibility of deciding the fate of the party.
They go in knowing that this time around rhetoric alone will not be enough to stamp SNAP’s identity as a winner.
Despite its obvious handicaps, SNAP, given a new crop of leaders and the right direction, has a future to play in Sarawak’s politics.
For now, SNAP must not only learn to be humble, but must also work very hard to win back the confidence of the Dayaks in particular and the public in general.
As the delegates convene to decide SNAP’s fate, upmost on the minds of political observers and supporters is the party’s “ties” with the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition.
Will the delegates decide to keep the party within BN’s reach or will it declare itself independent of both BN and its former opposition ally, Pakatan Rakyat?
Or will it succumb to and accept Sarawak DAP’s offer for SNAP to merge with them?
Or what will happen if SNAP declares that it is a BN-friendly party?
Being BN-friendly does have its advantages.
The most obvious advantage is that SNAP will be able to accommodate within its fold partyless people like former Pelagus assemblyman Larry Sng.
There is also the possibility that the five rebellious elected representatives from Sarawak Progressive Democratic Party (SPDP) may join the party.
The five, better known as “SPDP 5”, are assemblymen Peter Nansian (Tasik Biru), Sylvester Enteri (Marudi), Rosey Yunus (Bekenu), Paulus Gumbang (Batu Danau) and parliamentarian Tiki Lafe (Mas Gading).
The five rebels who have been embroiled in a crisis with the current SPDP leadership are likely to be sacked any time soon.
And as partyless representatives, they will need a platform.
If SNAP were to open its arms to them, then there would be no need for the five to form a new BN- friendly party.
After all, the five were once SNAP members before they joined SPDP in 2002.
Thus, their return to SNAP would be regarded as the return of the prodigal sons.
The sticking point, however, is that they will not only be certain of contesting in the general election, but will also likely take over the leadership of SNAP by virtue of their status as elected representatives.
Disadvantages of BN link
While SNAP may win over these politically influential figures, it may lose its grassroots support.
Ground supporters feel that SNAP’s return to the BN fold would be filled with obstacles, problems and disappointments.
Firstly, there will be seat problems. Which party is willing to surrender its seats to SNAP?
Secondly, it will face the same situation as peninsula-based People’s Progressive Party (PPP), with no seats to contest come election times.
Worse, it will be bullied, sidelined and ostracised.
One thing is clear, though: the people who are anti-BN and fence-sitters within SNAP will withdraw their support for the party.
Merger, a bad idea
The second option is for SNAP to remain neutral or to go solo, without BN or Pakatan alliances.
What will SNAP gain by being neutral? It is understood many of its members do not want the party to be neutral.
They feel that the party is not strong enough to withstand the squeeze between two giants during general elections as best testified during the recent April 16 state election when 25 of its 26 candidates lost their deposits.
They also don’t see the third option of SNAP joining DAP through a merger as a good move either. They believe SNAP should not lose its identity.
Pakatan, a viable option
Which leaves SNAP with only one option – Pakatan Rakyat.
Many of its members believe that the best option for the party is to remain as a component of Pakatan which comprises PKR, DAP and PAS.
Here, they believe, the party has a future where it can bargain at least for some of the winnable Dayak majority seats.
Thus, whichever direction the delegates decide come next week, the fate of the 50-year-old party is keenly watched by the general public, especially by its former members.
SNAP has had a rough nine years following its deregistration by the Registrar of Societies (ROS) in November 2002 due to a leadership crisis.
That crisis also led to the formation of SPDP by a splinter group led by William Mawan Ikom.
SNAP applied for stay of execution and fought its case in the court.
During this time, thousands of its members deserted the party and joined SPDP, other BN component parties or the opposition.
Some diehard supporters have even remained partyless.
In June last year, the Court of Appeal squashed the decision of the ROS and gave SNAP a new lease of life.
SNAP’s biggest mistake was taking part in the April 16 state polls.
Having barely come out of the “intensive care unit”, SNAP boasted of its strength and left the Pakatan coalition in a huff to contest 26 state seats in the state polls.
It proclaimed itself to be very popular in the Dayak-based constituencies and proudly said that the party produced the first chief minister of Sarawak.
In the end, SNAP’s disastrous showing not only proved that it was wrongly advised, but also it dragged the party down to its lowest level of shame.