A Sarawak Report COMMENT
- Scenes this week as PKR local followers agree to follow their MPs and march out of the party – who knows where?
- 17 March 2020
The early results coming in from Sarawak’s small constituencies were a sign of the sea-change achieved at GE14, as PKR candidates won a clutch of unexpected victories in hard to win rural seats.
The party, and others besides, had worked tirelessly to support these candidates and voters had shown their own enthusiasm for Reformasi and thirst for change by pushing back against the almost overwhelming advantages given to the ruling parties by a largely autonomous regime run for the benefit of the Taib family and their cronies.
It was an exciting development and at grass roots level folk across Sarawak started to hope they could make real changes with the next state elections and force the government to do more for the native peoples, who had been described as squatters as their lands as they were pillaged by the ruling cliques who’d enriched themselves from egregious abuses of power and office.
All Sarawak PKR needed to do now was to pull themselves together, get working on the ground and build cooperation with their coalition allies, namely DAP and any independents willing to work with them. Their leaders gained government positions – like Baru Bian, Minister for Public Works – which ought to have further enabled positive action and organisation.
Two years later, however, they had done nothing to prepare the party for the looming state election. Instead, they had descended into a mess of quarrelling factions with an isolated leadership at war with the party’s national HQ and speaking to no one much but themselves and, of course, the clique of plotters around the deputy PKR leader, Azmin Ali.
How could such a neglect of duty towards their hopeful electorate have come to pass?
Sarawak Report can testify the signs were there from the start. Humility, forgiveness and patience comprise the Christian philosophy of these mainly Dayak leaders, however it seems a culture of rivalry, petty squabbling and lasting resentments was every bit as powerfully ingrained.
The previous state election of 2016 had descended into a ferocious rivalry with the urban DAP as the two parties squabbled over which was going to lose in seats that plainly neither was going to win. The pointless, bitter fighting had naturally served only to weaken both parties in the eyes of voters – infighting ALWAYS does.
Two years on, as the new PH coalition got to work and sought to organise its duties in Sarawak it was plain that this lingering and debilitating animosity remained. The local chapters of these national political allies continued to harbour corrosive suspicion of the other – indeed, as one DAP leading light bemoaned only too prophetically to Sarawak Report during those early months:
“We feel PKR are more friendly to the GPS people than they are to us, we find we cannot get along”
But this was by no means the only pointless battle consuming the attention of these local PKR leaders – successfully distracting them from the doubtless more tedious duties of party organisation and policy formation.
Within days of the election victory a key PKR organiser from the small inner circle who ran the local Sarawak Party was announcing to Sarawak Report:
“You realise we are Azmin’s men? We do not support Anwar”
The implications of this partisan factionalism have now been fully played out, but they were obvious from the start. The attitude of Sarawak PKR’s leaders from the moment the PH government took office was that they were ‘against’ the national leader of their own party and were prepared to act as devoted and unquestioning supporters of Azmin Ali, wherever that might lead.
Questioning these PKR Sarawak’s leaders not long before the eventual coup that has now led this group to support a coalition of parties they came into politics to oppose and passionately campaigned against at the election, Sarawak Report asked how they could justify their blatant commitment to a PKR rebel, who was plainly willing to ditch every party promise and join extremist PAS and corrupted UMNO?
The response consisted mainly of knowing smirks – apparently Sarawak’s local PKR leaders had imagined it would turn out differently with Azmin succeeding Dr Mahathir as the leader of the PH coalition, with excellent rewards for ‘Azmin’s men’ in store.
How had these former land-rights campaigners and reforming idealists reached this place?
Bitterness and Resentment
The answer is actually quite simple. Back in 2011 there had been two dynamics that sealed the loyalty of Sarawak PKR ‘s leadership to Azmin Ali, a loyalty he would proceed to ruthlessly exploit to forward his own opportunist agenda to usurp his boss or do whatever else it took to become No 1 politically in Malaysia.
The first dynamic was that Azmin had been entrusted by his then trusting party leader to manage the finances and organisation for elections in the East Malaysian states. Azmin therefore controlled the money PKR Sarawak received, which focused the minds and loyalties of grateful local leaders.
The second dynamic that unfurled during the course of 2011 was that PKR HQ in KL for a while lost confidence in the ability, energy and commitment of the leadership of the local Sarawak party and started to consider if certain persons should be replaced.
When the issue became open there was not surprisingly an angry and defensive pushback on the part of Baru Bian and his allies which, thanks to various representations succeeded with the party leadership, meaning he and his coterie were retained after all. They proceeded to perform abysmally in 2011 compared to DAP and equally abysmally in the elections of 2013 and 2016, but did not care to blame themselves.
The resentment generated by those aborted moves back in 2011 would have been better put aside – that’s politics after all and serving the people should come first.
Indeed, Anwar, who was considered most responsible for those second thoughts about the Sarawak team, himself suffered two five year terms in jail, owing to a very great extent his own political rival Dr Mahathir. Yet, Anwar had found the resources to bury that hatchet for the sake of the win of 2018.
Not so with Sarawak PKR, where such pragmatic and spiritual forgiveness was not forthcoming. To the contrary, the local leadership apparently never let go of their resentment over that perceived betrayal of their ‘right’ to lead the party in Sarawak and powerful suspicions lingered that it was just a matter of time before Anwar moved against them once more
One strong reason for the ongoing bitterness, Sarawak Report contends, was that it was ruthlessly encouraged by an interested party behind the scenes. Azmin Ali had in fact been key to the deliberations that had seen the near dismissal of the Sarawak PKR leadership back in 2011. However, just as he later sought to take advantage of the jailing of his boss to seize control of PKR, he was happy to shift the blame.
After such a string of poor electoral performances by Sarawak PKR it could not have been hard to stoke the fears of another move to re-energise the leadership with new blood. And Azmin, as he has now amply demonstrated beyond the circle of those who know him well, has all the qualities of ruthless ambition and lack of conscience needed to reach the top.
Thanks to his multiple manipulations of different factions against his own party’s unity, he now sits as a de facto Deputy Prime Minister over a coalition of his former political enemies, headed by a puppet ‘PM8′ whose life expectancy is, to put if politely, not long.
The blind support of the Sarawak PKR faction had been crucial to the coup. As detailed, it had not been hard for Azmin to convince the impressionable ‘country bumpkins’ over in distant East Malaysia that there was plotting against them or that the lack of confidence in their political skills owed only to Anwar Ibrahim.
Stories about Anwar’s ‘unmentionably evil nature’ told in respectful confidence by Azmin to such favoured listeners were easily believed.
“Apparently the things he does are so awful they can’t be mentioned. But Azmin, he knows all about these things and why Anwar can never lead the party.”
one of Sarawak’s PKR leaders knowingly explained to Sarawak Report. Since Anwar was in jail he could not defend himself over the years that Azmin ingratiated his own patronage.
During that time, Azmin had made a more practical move to take advantage Najib’s political persecution of his boss. PKR had initially passed the leadership of the State of Selangor to Anwar’s long-suffering wife Wan Azizah – used to filling her husband’s shoes. However, Azmin manipulated a different outcome.
Working with the new extremist leader who had just taken over PAS, Hadi Awang, Azmin was able to block Wan Azizah from taking over the pivotal role. Azmin was able to do a deal with Hadi, who refused a woman on grounds of bigotry.
The Sultan of Selangor agreed to grease the wheels and Azmin’s carefully cultivated ongoing relations with these two players have remained central to his continuing future progress.
This meant that from 2014, during the near five years that Anwar was booted into jail a second time, Azmin controlled the purse strings of Selangor, Malaysia’s richest state and used that position to strengthen his position in the party against Anwar and his wife.
Playing with his control of grants he managed to develop devotional support from numerous civil society campaigners, who were to prove vital in backing his campaign to usurp his party leader right until the moment he flipped over to join his other carefully cultivated contacts within UMNO/PAS. Using the same powers of patronage Azmin also managed to develop dog-like devotion from the leadership of PKR Sarawak.
From this enviable position Azmin made the life of the struggling Wan Aziza, seeking to represent her jailed husband as the leader of their party, as hard as possible. He had access to money to shower on client groups and somehow also seemed to have secured access to private money that enabled himself and his family to live and travel with utmost freedom and luxury.
The distant folk in PKR Sarawak, like so many NGO folk were hugely grateful to have their money issues covered thanks to the generous concern of the leader of Selangor. They were plainly willing to absorb stories about the inadequacies of the ‘difficult women’ seeking to stand up for the jailed party founder and also to take on board the troubled assessment that Anwar was not ‘really fit to lead his party’ going forward. Instead it should be him.
Azmin may have acted pleased that Sarawak Report was able to contrive a meeting between Dr Mahathir and Nurul Izzah in London in 2017. After all, their eventual agreement forged an alliance that ultimately won GE14 and saw Anwar released as the prime minister designate. However, it is a matter of record that he protested behind the scenes and felt outmanoeuvred.
So it was that when Anwar (fresh from jail and receiving treatment for physical injuries) stood as leader once more in the post-GE14 PKR elections, Azmin told him he would challenge him for the top job.
At the final moment he backed down, but told Anwar he felt it was his reward for the ‘hard work’ he had put into leading in Selangor that he should be given a clear and uncontested path to the deputy position. After all, he had the situation sewn up having used his years as the source of funding for PKR to ensure that many of his loyal henchmen occupied key positions in the party.
However, Anwar was not prepared to prevent a rival loyal to him from taking up the challenge. Rafizi could not match Azmin’s entrenched support by that point, however he gave the Selangor ex-chief minister a fright with an only narrow defeat in the unequal battle.
Bumpkins in places like Sarawak were lectured on how disloyal it had been of Anwar not to allow Azmin, who had ‘sacrificed so much’ to be his substitute as leader of Selangor, to get the job unopposed. They felt his ‘justified’ bitterness, his anger and his pain and it confirmed their view of Anwar.
The picture of Larry Sng together with Anwar meeting with Governor Taib and published by the Borneo Post has been used over the past year as proof that the PKR leader was ‘scheming’ against his local party
It soon became clear that being ‘Azmin’s men’ involved passive obstruction to the ultimate leadership of the party around Anwar.
It meant being uncommunicative, slow footed, disorganised and unresponsive – much of which came naturally to these folk to whom practical organisation, strategy and policy seemed secondary to waiting on providence and fighting separate battles. That was always the problem with the Sarawak PKR Division from the start.
Therefore, whilst the opportunity to mobilise PKR Sarawak was glaring in the post GE14 period, zero happened. Indeed, any urge for action from the centre was treated as an imposition on the ‘autonomy’ of the local party.
The PKR leadership took a handy leaf out of the despotic play sheet of Taib Mahmud in this respect. Taib had long since done a deal with his KL bosses for a free hand in return for Sarawak’s oil reserves. Taib called it ‘autonomy’ and ‘keeping UMNO out of Sarawak’.
Now, PKR Sarawak grandstanded on the same principle of ‘autonomy’, which in practice meant scheming with Azmin to undermine Anwar’s efforts. In neither case did the interests of the actual people feature foremost.
Anwar continued to beg for strategic cooperation, organisational planning and evidence of policies for the coming state election. In return there were months of sullen silence, these were Azmin’s men.
There was plenty of mood music to encourage the thesis in Sarawak that Anwar was already a deadman walking to be ignored. Azmin’s friendly NGOs were happy to join the criticism that Anwar was ‘too ambitious’ in pressing for a consolidation of his right as the leader of the largest party assume a post in cabinet and name a date for the agreed transfer of power.
Ambition was made a dirty word against Anwar on behalf of the very people whose reform agendas were being blocked by an elderly man of the past. On the other hand, Azmin’s own ambition to leapfrog the man who gave up ten years of his prime of life to do jail for his principles was being treated as if it was perfectly acceptable.
When evidence suddenly emerged that it was not necessarily Anwar who practices the ‘unmentionable’ acts so liberally whispered about by Azmin’s God fearing supporters, but rather allegedly Azmin himself, it proved again only too easy for the groupies to accept the counter-version of the story.
The ‘dirty video’ released by an angry former aide to Azmin was described a plot by Anwar to defame Azmin and stymie his rightful progress. Supporters agreed it could also be a deep fake – proof of Anwar’s nefarious tactics to prevent Azmin and his men as the better inheritors from the transition government.
And still, zero continued to have been done over months and months in terms of organising PKR Sarawak onto a state election footing or developing and promoting policies for those people who had voted for those PKR MPs and their aides, who were now enjoying the ministerial life.
Meanwhile, a frustrated Anwar had upped the tension with a move that gifted Azmin’s men with the ‘proof’ they needed. The PKR leader took up the offer of the maverick businessman cum politician Sng Chee Hua and his son Larry, who held one independent seat, to join PKR and bring their financial muscle to help mobilise the moribund local party machine.
The Sng family have a dirty business reputation in Sarawak in timber and gambling. Larry is married to the daughter of a hated local chancer Ting Pek Khiing, the logger of the Bakun Dam and a Mahathir crony of years gone by. Neither are amongst the ‘Big Six’ crony companies wedded to Taib Mahmud and Larry Sng having acted a political favourite in the past had walked away from BN by 2013.
However, resentment and suspicion lingers on against the Sng family’s past and present intentions towards the Dayak. When they joined PKR through a deal with Anwar (adding their single seat in Julau) it provided just the cause celebre required by Azmin’s men to justify open defiance in Sarawak.
No longer did the rebellious PKR leadership need to explain why they were failing to cooperate or support their party leader. Larry Sng was ‘Taib’s man’, it was explained, now infiltrated by Anwar to undermine and divide his own party.
Whether or not Sng is indeed Taib’s plant or deep cover agent is yet to emerge. However, what is certain is that Azmin himself successfully used the alliance to divide the Sarawak PKR party himself, in order to further his own political cause and ultimately that of Taib as well – given that Azmin and GPS have now seized power through a joint coup against the voters of PKR.
The fury over Sng and deep suspicion that Anwar was priming him to take over as a Chinese leader of Sarawak PKR ruptured the local party in pro-Azmin and pro-Anwar factions, which finally saw three key MPs joining with Azmin to break away from the party altogether and assist the present coup coalition of the unconfirmed ‘PM8′ (to whom Azmin acts as deputy).
Advice by well-wishers like Sarawak Report that the party would do well to unify and focus on the real enemies of corruption and cronyism around Taib were met with virulent attacks over the presence of Larry Sng. Thanks to Larry Sng, Azmin was able to lead PKR Sarawak by the nose.
The Sarawak defectors from PKR are now supporting Taib’s party GPS within a Malay Muslim supremacist coalition that militates against the equal rights of Sarawak people. The bogus autonomy deal done by GPS as its price for joining such a coalition has put Taib’s own daughter in the coup coalition cabinet in charge of all the resources offered back to ‘autonomous’ Sarawak.
Supporting all this willingly are the moo cows from PKR Sarawak who were thus courted and seduced into becoming ‘Azmin’s men’. Although, faced with the enormity of the outcome, the former leader Baru Bian has stepped back from his colleagues and taken a stand as an ‘Independent’ MP. This week he led his local party followers in an angry exit from PKR where electoral oblivion surely awaits them.
Inevitably, Anwar has now been forced into making the very promotion these Dayak leaders feared. With just three remaining supportive sitting local MPs, two Chinese*, PKR has now conducted a vote and appointed the winner to be the leader of Sarawak PKR – Larry Sng. So far, Sng has at least proven loyal to the party as has Miri’s Michael Teo.
Two ex-PKR Sarawak MPs now sit as ministers in the coup coalition as their reward for the vital role they played in disrupting their party and assisting the Azmin betrayal against the voting public.
They may enjoy the trappings of their temporary office, but in the process PKR Sarawak have sadly let down themselves, their voters and their country by acting like rural bumpkins and village rivals, instead of remembering the great and fundamental values of their faith: patience, forgiveness, humility and putting others (their voters) before their own vanities and greed.