PKR Sarawak Leader, Baru Bian, enters the State Parliament for the first time today with a new rallying cry. He has told Sarawak Report in an exclusive interview that it is time to mobilize grass roots support and to form an army of volunteers to build on the opposition’s progress at the State Election.
In a clear appeal to the frustrated 45% of the electorate who voted for the opposition, but were rewarded with just a relative handful of seats, he said Sarawak must develop a new ‘culture of volunteerism’ to counter the corruption of money politics and passive voters. He told Sarawak Report:
“Mobilization of the 45% support is crucial..Volunteerism is not a common culture in this part of the world. So we need to explain the need to mobilize people on the ground together to bring the change we all desire. It needs conviction from within to a cause, or else people would always expect to be rewarded or paid for whatever they do. We need therefore to do our best to convince people that we are doing all these for the good of all and the generations after us”.
The PKR leader, who enters the DUN for the first time as one of 3 rural representatives who succeeded in wresting seats from BN’s grasp, also makes a clear play for more practical support from urban voters.
The opposition, represented by DAP, triumphed in nearly all the city seats, because the towns have a far greater awareness of political issues and a more developed political machinery. However, with so many rural seats in the hands of BN’s traditional power-brokers, Baru Bian asserts that it is in the interests of town activists to do more to help PKR’s efforts to win more seats in the upcoming Federal Election. Many of the rural seats delivered strong votes for the opposition, narrowly missing victory - with more support they could win next time round.
“DAP can assist PKR or PAS to win by providing financial support and personnel to assist in the campaign and perhaps also on logistics”, he explains.
The PKR leader carefully talks up the unity between the opposition parties in this interview, despite recent reports of spats and conflicts. He accepts the reasoning behind DAP’s overtures towards SNAP and focusses on his own appeal to the young people of Sarawak to unite to behind his dream of ending corruption and bringing back a fair deal for Sarawak under the 20 point agreement. Should the opposition take power, he says that the first moves would be to restore the wealth stolen by current BN leaders and to work:
“for a good governance [of Sarawak], for fair and equitable policies, for fair and equitable share of her wealth and riches and eventually where every Sarawakian has a place to live in the Land of the Hornbills”
Baru Bian confirmed to Sarawak Report that the volunteer activist campaign will be getting under way over the coming weeks and that anyone who has time, money or talent to spare will be encouraged to step forward and do their bit for Sarawak’s future.
THE INTERVIEW WITH BARU BIAN
Q – Reflecting on the election results, what positive points can be made in your view and also what lessons have the opposition parties have drawn from the result?
“Firstly, a very clear and positive increase in popularity votes for the Opposition, which is about 45%. There was a decrease in support for the BN from 63% from the last GE to 55%. Secondly, there is a clear acceptance of the various ethnic groups in Sarawak of the opposition coalition. The Chinese urban fully backed DAP. This was expected, as the Chinese are the most informed group of what is going on in the Country and the State. PKR on the other hand won three seats, a good reflection of support from the Orang Ulus (Ba’Kelalan), the Ibans (Krian) and the Chinese (Batu Lintang). Although PKR failed to win a Bidayuh seat, the result in all the areas we fielded candidates are very encouraging too. Beting Maru, which was narrowly lost by the PAS candidate, is also clear support from the Malays for a PR coalition partner.
The lessons learned from the said result are that the Chinese are ready for the change advocated. This is very evidenced from the support given in all the Chinese majority seats, notwithstanding the party from which candidates were fielded. For example Batu Lintang and Senadin, which were contested by PKR candidates. We won Batu Lintang with a bigger majority than in 2008 when a DAP contested there. We narrowly lost Senadin. The DAP lost in all the two non-Chinese majority seats they contested Sri Aman and Bukit Kota, which shows that the non-Chinese are not ready to accept DAP as a party to represent them. This prompted DAP to look at how they could be seen more multi-racial in their outlook; thus the immediate announcement to talk with SNAP for a possible merger and an immediate appointment of a Bidayuh Personal Assistant to YB Chong to commence works amongst the Bidayuhs in Kuching.
For PKR, a few seats could have been won, for example Telang Usan and Kakus if it were not for some hiccups here and there. We do recognize though that there were many factors contributing to our failure to win more seats, which could be divided into two main categories; external and internal factors. The external factors are for example threats, intimidations, gangsterism, promises of developments and projects, monopoly of public transports, manipulation of community leaders and bribery, etc., whereas the internal factors are like weak political machinery or structure, delay in appointing and announcing of candidates, wrong choice of Polling and Counting Agents (PACA). The lack of experience of PACA and limited financial resources are equally important factors we overlooked”.
Q - What are PKR going to do to improve their performance next time?
“The first thing is to register more young voters and to recruit them as party members. With more young voters who are well informed of the political development in the country, PKR will become more attractive to the populace in particular the Dayaks and the Malay/Melanaus communities. This is because PKR and its leaders chime well with the rural folks, as many of PKR leaders, for example, are very much involved in NCR cases throughout the State, which affect all native communities. We must open more rantings in the villages as avenues to engage the people. The party’s machinery must be strengthened and organized. To enhance support and understanding of the Party’s struggle and manifesto, more ceramahs and workshops must be conducted. The Party’s leadership must give more leeway to the State leadership in choice and appointment of leaders in the State. Work closely with PR partners. Choice of candidates must be made early to enable them to move immediately on the ground. The branches and the State leadership must find ways to financially sustain the State’s activities and not rely too much on Party’s HQ for such provisions. However, on the same token, the HQ must assist and contribute to the finances incurred in the course of running above activities”.
Q- What will be the key manifesto points that you think will draw the people to your side next time?
“PKR is a very young Party compared to DAP and PAS more so in its debut in Sarawak. But the support from all the ethnic groups in Sarawak is very encouraging, as reflected in the 3 seats we won and the areas we stood but lost. So we need to persevere on and communicate more and engage the people on the ground. Our leaders must be seen to be credible and firm. Yes we need to emphasise in the manifesto especially our emphasis on good governance, i.e, the CAT principles of Competency, Accountability and Transparency. The resolution on tackling the NCR issue and other land issues affecting the non-native community. The respect for the 20 points under the Malaysian Agreement and the increase in the petroleum royalties are but some of the very important manifesto points to be highlighted as these encompass the inspiration of most Sarawakians”.
Q – Can you tell us what the situation is with the PR alliance and the relations with DAP – is DAP going to help you more effectively in the rural areas next time around?
“PKR has no problem working together with DAP for the future of the PR alliance. It was in the initial negotiation that we had tough time with the DAP. This is understandable as they were trying to get all the Chinese majority seats, as these are the seats that had high possibility of winning, which was quite correct eventually. They knew that they would have no chance to win in the Dayak/Malay majority seats. The DAP therefore can assist PKR or PAS to win by providing financial support and personnel to assist in the campaign and perhaps also on logistics”.
Q - What are BN’s weaknesses going forward to the next Federal election?
“BN has no manifesto or clear practical vision for the people of Sarawak. Theirs is money politics and bribery. Theirs is Promises of developments and projects, but which they will not deliver. Theirs is threat and intimidation to instill fear. When the dust is settled, the people will realize BN had nothing much to offer, except failed promises. The truth will eventually be known. PR must continue to expose these lies and misleading campaign statements”.
Q - How important is it for PKR to mobilise the 45% of the electorate who supported PR in the state election in order to make more gains next time?
“Mobilization of the 45% support is crucial. The question is how can we mobilize this 45% to gain ground next round? Volunteerism is not a common culture in this part of the world. So we need to explain the need to mobilize people on the ground together to bring the change we all desire. It needs conviction from within to a cause, or else people would always expect to be rewarded or paid for whatever they do. We need therefore to do our best to convince people that we are doing all these for the good of all and the generations after us”.
Q – What would PKR’s first act be regarding Sarawak if they win Federal power do you think?
“The first thing that should be done is to bring to justice all the corrupt leaders, beginning with the Chief Minister Taib Mahmud and his cronies. All ill-gotten wealth stashed in and out of the country must be returned to the people of Sarawak. Next we will increase the petroleum royalty to 20% and release the said fund for the immediate funding of developments in Sarawak. The road connecting the rural with the main towns in Sarawak would be constructed immediately with Federal funding. This will open up huge tracts of agricultural lands for development and allow any proceeds from such development to be brought to the markets in towns and cities. Review the 20 points under the Malaysian Agreement and make amends accordingly”.
Q – What is your reaction the formal acknowledgement now by the MACC that they are investigating Taib Mahmud?
“I welcome the news that MACC is now investigating Taib Mahmud. I don’t believe that MACC has the guts to charge Taib, even if there is any evidence of impropriety or unlawful amassed of his wealth. Taib is too important for Najib, having delivered Sarawak in every election for BN, thus there is no reason for them ‘to bite the hands that fed them’ all these years. If in the event MACC does, that is a miracle, a divine intervention”.
Q – How do you feel on the eve of joining the DUN and what will your priorities be in that role?
“I feel privileged and honoured to be part of the Sarawak State Assembly, with the sincere hope to be able to contribute to the betterment of the State of Sarawak and her people, for a good governance, for a fair and equitable policies, for fair and equitable share of her wealth and riches and eventually where every Sarawakian has a place to live in the Land of the Hornbills. On the other hand I feel the burden of this great responsibility aware that the BN majority may not adhere to our voices from the opposition. Nevertheless I will pursue the various issues we raised in our manifesto. These are for example the setting up of the Land Commission, which is a fair and neutral platform for the resolution of NCR issues. If a private bill needs to be tabled for this purpose, I will make effort to do so. Secondly, I will monitor the developments or projects promised by the BN candidates throughout the State during the State Election and to ensure they are delivered. For example a road linking Ba Kelalan with Bario. Generally to speak without fear or favour on any issues affecting the lives of all Sarawakians, transcending race and religion”.