By Awang Abdillah
The Barisan Nasional coalition concept was actually mooted by certain Sarawak leaders who had lived through the experiences of the Sarawak Alliance Party during its 1966 crisis and the fragile position of Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB) while under the Sarawak coalition government in the early 1970s.
In the 1974 Sarawak election, the BN entity had helped to strengthen the performance of its Sarawak partners when it won 30 seats and Sarawak National Party (SNAP) which was in the opposition won 18 seats.
Following that election, the BN government faced yet another crisis when SNAP threatened to destabilise the coalition.
The federal-level BN quickly stepped in and helped to diffuse the crisis by negotiating for SNAP to enter into the BN fold in 1976.
Despite these hiccups, the overall BN concept of a multi-party alliance had worked at the time.
Unfortunately over the years and taking advantage of the federal BN protection, the domineering power of PBB at state level began to breed bad elements of bad governance.
The chief minister then, Abdul Rahman Yaakub, began to issue timber licences to his family members and cronies.
The Malays felt the PBB policies had marginalised them.
Consequently, a new party, Parti Pajar, was formed demanding the removal of the chief minister.
The BN federal government at that time was under prime minister Hussein Onn.
Being a man of clean character, he eventually forced Abdul Rahman to step down in 1981.
Rahman’s nephew Taib Mahmud took over from him the same year.
From 1981 onwards, the grand alliance under the BN brand started to show its true colour.
Events in Sarawak and Peninsular Malaysia began to slowly take a very ugly turn.
PBB and Umno, being the backbone of BN parties in Sarawak and the Peninsula respectively, started to adopt domineering politics to establish their political and economic hegemony over the state and the country respectively.
Like Sarawak, the federal government has sacrificed good governance and replaced it with massive abuses of power and corruption.
Elements of bad governance began to flow far and deep into all corners of the political and economic systems of the country.
The abuses of power and corruption began to get worse by the day .
The major abuses of the Dr Mahathir Mohamad-led government were the award of mega projects and businesses to family members , henchmen and cronies worth billions of ringgit.
Also during his tenure, the country saw massive borrowings from financial institutions and the public fund board like the Employees Provident Fund (EPF), a free fall of the ringgit currency, the hijacking of the independence of the judiciary, unfair power-sharing formula with other component parties, the curbing of the anti-corruption agency’s powers and the suppression of the opposition and the human rights.
Eventually, Umno established itself as the most powerful party in the country.
Mahathir believed that when Umno is powerful nothing can stop it from doing whatever it wants to do.
But what seemed to have escaped Mahathir is the fact that when an organisation has absorbed too much political and economic power beyond its abilities to handle it, it creates within its system a race to sustain and garner more power.
A power struggle from within began to take shape in the mid-80s, which eventually split the party down the middle.
In 1988, a faction led by Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah emerged to challenge Mahathir’s leadership. The party crisis eventually led to the de-registration of Umno.
In 1998, another power struggle emerged. A strong faction led by former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim began to challenge Mahathir.
This time, Anwar, who was the former deputy Umno president, managed to form his own party called Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR). It formed a pact with other opposition parties, PAS and DAP , and called themselves Pakatan Rakyat.
The results of the 2008 general election has changed the fate of Umno drastically.
In the 12th general election, the voters punched Umno on the head.
Now Umno seems to come to the realisation that not only has it lost so much power but it is now fighting for its own survival.
All kinds of desperate measures have come into play to arrest the decline.
PBB plays Umno role
One of them is the creation of Perkasa, which uses threats and intimidations as a means to get the non-Malays to support BN.
A similar scenario occurred in Sarawak. In the recent 10th state election, the Chinese voters politically punched Taib in his jaw.
PBB lost the support of a major partner Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP), which lost 13 out of the 19 seats it contested.
In fact, the Chinese had given Taib warning signs that he must quit to save BN but he has remained adamant and has chosen to stay on.
For its survival, PBB now depends very much on the support of its Dayak wing (Pesaka) and native-based parties, namely Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) and Sarawak Peoples Democratic Party (SPDP) to enable Taib to continue as the chief minister.
By the twist of events, the Pesaka (native) wing, which was once a meek component, has now become the linchpin that keeps the Malay-Bumiputera wing in PBB power.
If the Pesaka wing snaps ,the Bumiputera wing will go into a free-fall.
Taib breaking up parties
In anticipation of this, of late Taib has been wreaking havoc on the Dayak parties within the BN coalition.
He has attempted very hard to break up PRS but the latter is solidly defending itself.
He has tried to split up SPDP and has managed to rope in five elected representatives (four assemblymen and one parliamentarian) to his side.
His succession plan is getting tougher by the day.
Both Umno and PBB should not forget that like everything else, greed for power has its price.
The greedier they are the higher the price both parties have to pay.
But if you dare to reach for the limit, then you are what people call “power crazy”, which then leaves you cursed in this world and the next.
Awang Abdillah is a political observer in Sarawak. He is an FMT columnist.