Star and SWP: Small parties trying to make an impact

THE last week of May was a pretty interesting one for me, politically that is. I was invited to two functions by two different political parties.

The events were interesting principally because the people behind the two parties are colourful personalities. You need colourful characters to make politics interesting and exciting. It was also nice to catch up with them again, some of whom I count among my personal friends.

Well, I would even describe some them as political animals. Meant as a compliment – these people breathe, eat and sleep politics. They would always be in the thick of things, come rain or shine. When the chips are down, they would probably lie low and catch a breather to allow the dark hours to pass. At the slightest opportunity to stage a political fight, such as during a general election, they would turn into gladiators ready to enter the arena giving their all.

A political comeback is likely on their minds. And why not, when you are down, the only way to go is up! For politicians who have fallen by the wayside, it’s kind of comforting to know that a comeback is possible every few years. It’s okay to dream dreams, even if they aren’t achievable. After all, dreams are free.

Oh yes, we do have political animals in our midst and good or bad, they will always be around. I see no harm in having political animals if they belong to the species which is sincere about doing good for the nation and people and will genuinely work hard towards those goals.

On May 26, I attended the Borneo Agenda dialogue with Datuk Dr Jeffrey Kitingan, the Sabah chairman of the State Reform Party (Star). Although I’ve read Jeffrey’s 10-point agenda online, I thought it would be a good opportunity to hear him share his favourite agenda in person and perhaps pose a question or two too.

The event at KM 4 Bau-Lundu Road was also to launch Star’s official quest to contest in Mas Gading during the coming parliamentary election. Veteran politician Patrick Anek Uren was the host of the evening. Anek is also Star vice-president. He is widely tipped to be the party’s standard bearer for Mas Gading.

A familiar face in the Bidayuh enclave, Anek has his following but he has to work doubly hard to have any chance of wresting the seat that was once his.

Mas Gading is now held by Datuk Dr Tiki Lafe, one of the SPDP 5 who is hoping to be renominated by the BN to contest the seat. However, his former party has already announced that he would be replaced.

The internal problems within BN/SPDP in Mas Gading may help Star’s campaign provided there is no multi-cornered fight. Somehow, I feel that the opposition group may not be able to agree on a single candidate in Mas Gading.

Come to think of it, it’s actually fair game in Mas Gading. Both sides are facing internal glitches and at the end of it all, we can expect more than two candidates in the constituency. I think it’s better for the contenders to just enter the ring and slug it out rather than to quarrel with each other publicly during the bargaining process.

The May 26 event of the party was significant in that it must have been years since Star hosted such a meaningful do. The party was registered in 1997 with Dr Patau Rubis as its first president. It was dormant until early this year, when Dr Jeffrey decided to bring it to Sabah and turn it into his political vehicle. This gave Star a new lease of life.

Should the party make it one day in Sarawak, it must really thank Jeffrey and his supporters for the change of fortune. Jeffrey may be known as a maverick politician in Sabah, but at times I think he deserves more credit than he has been given.

That he has managed to recruit more than 100,000 Star members in Sabah in just three months shows that Jeffrey is not a ‘regular’ guy. I believe in Sarawak, Star does not have even 10,000 members after 15 years.

Star is now making waves in the Land Below the Wind. Jeffrey and his merry men have been criss-crossing the state at regular intervals to promote their Borneo Agenda under Star. Whether this enthusiasm can be translated into votes come the general election is left to be seen.

But Star must credit Jeffrey for giving the party another jump-start. The party’s loyalists in Sarawak should now know what to do.

On May 28, I attended the Gawai Nite of the newly registered Sarawak Workers Party (SWP) in Sibu. Earlier in the day, the party elected its first supreme council with Larry Sng as president.

I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the huge crowd at the dinner – about 4,000 people were present, I was informed later. The dinner venue – the Sibu Trade and Exhibition Centre – is perhaps the only place in town big enough to cater for such a big number of guests.

It’s no secret that the prime mover of SWP is Datuk Sng Chee Hua, another colourful politician in Sarawak. Chee Hua may not be an elected legislator now, may be without a party, may not hold any public position but somehow, he is still in a position to call the shots when it matters to him.

It’s also no secret that SWP was Chee Hua’s brainchild for his child – his 33-year-old son Larry. The young man has been without a party since he was sacked from Tan Sri Dr James Masing’s PRS in 2007.

Larry declared in his speech at that Gawai dinner in Sibu that SWP would contest in the six parliamentary seats currently held by PRS legislators. The battle lines are clear – PRS is SWP’s enemy No. 1.

As complicated as it may sound – a BN-friendly party contesting against candidates from a BN component – one can conclude that in politics, there are no real, hard and fast rules to follow at times. Seasoned politicians know that there are never any set rules to follow in politics. We should all learn a good lesson from this SWP episode.

To be fair to Larry, he is still young and he needs a vehicle to continue his political career. After his sacking from PRS, he attempted to join other BN component parties but was unsuccessful. That being the case, the other option was to set up his own party and he has done it.

I do not wish to sound biased but I honestly think that Larry has performed well as a politician. He is energetic and it’s easier to serve a rural constituency if you are also blessed with the necessary resources. Larry has it.

Until that night in Sibu, I had not met Larry in person in 10 years. I was surprised and happy to hear him address the crowd in fluent Iban. Well, we have to say that the father has taught him well indeed, at least language-wise.

For now, Star and SWP are small Sarawak parties trying to make an impact in the state, beginning with the approaching parliamentary election. How successful they will be will depend on the leadership and the direction they have set for their parties. What is important is whether they have programmes attractive enough to lure voters to their side.

As a Sarawakian and because they are state-based parties, I wish them the best. Just as I would wish the same to all political parties who would attempt to attract my one precious vote come the elections.

You want my vote, show me all that you have.

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