Batang Ai, Sarawak: Terence Netto reports

Deep into a BN bastion
by Terence Netto

March 30, 2009

Kampong Ruai Panjai in Lubok Antu is at least three kilometres off the main road, accessible via a dirt track whose undulations make a journey there a seat-jarring experience even for visitors borne in a comfortable SUV.

Although the turn in off the main road is only about a kilometre from the town of Lubok Antu, the longhouse appears located back of the beyond – such is the feeling one gets when bouncing along the track, with thick undergrowth and tall lallang on either side screening you from trees visible beyond. The unkempt belt of green on either side is impenetrable.

The 20-door longhouse at the end of the journey is indistinguishable from most other Iban habitations of its kind, except that on this night the row of four-wheel drives parked on either side of the final 50 metres of the dirt track indicates that a function is in progress in the verandah.

It was at Ruai Panjai, a supposedly BN stronghold, that PKR candidate for the Batang Ai by-election, Jawah Gerang, chose to kick off his nightly ceramah round.

For Jawah it was not that curious a place to start, given that he was the five-term MP for Lubok Antu – from 1987 to 2008 – first for Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak when it was in the opposition, and then for BN when PBDS joined the ruling coalition.

Residents of this longhouse were solidly for him and BN in the recent past. Would they switch their allegiance to PKR as Jawah and many former PBDS-cum-Parti Rakyat Sarawak (Batang Ai is a PRS-allocated seat within the ruling BN coalition) members have done.

Ruai Panjai’s residents remember Jawah from his previous campaigns but it was debatable whether they had adjusted quickly enough to his change of allegiance, for the place was festooned in BN flags and the only posters visible were that of Malcolm Mussen Lamoh, his mild-mannered BN opponent.

Neither Jawah’s fiery tone when he spoke nor the content of his speech – a denunciation of the errors of commission and omission of the government of Chief Minister Taib Mahmud – comported well with the facts of political history such as Ruai Panjai’s fealty to BN and Jawah’s only recent shedding of the BN platform.

However, the applause that punctuated Jawah’s more fervent rhetorical flights could not be said to have been merely polite and only the audible jabbering of a middle-aged man at the far end indicated that an otherwise attentive and appreciative audience was not unanimous in reception to their former parliamentarian.

Follow Selangor’s example, vote Pakatan

“He has chosen to start his campaign where it’s probably hardest for him to get votes,” whispered Maxwell Roggis, a former aide of Jawah’s who was involved in several of his past campaigns.

“That’s just like Jawah – to take the fight deep into the opposition before going to the places where he can be more confident of support,” added Roggis, who felt that Jawah’s combativeness was a plus point.

“People are in a restive mood, over Native Customary Rights land, unpaid compensation for the resettled in the Batang Ai dam project and other issues,” explained Roggis.

Jawah also brought along to the ceramah Selangor Menteri Besar Khalid Ibrahim who followed up Jawah’s fire with the bricks and mortar of welfare-oriented government, to wit, the PKR-led Pakatan Rakyat government in Selangor where water is partly free, the elderly are entitled to medical benefits, the newly bereaved receive financial assistance, promising poor students have better access to scholarships, and women receive extended maternity leave.

“We have done all this in one year,” piped Khalid, listing the achievements of his administration in Selangor. Glancing about the grim conditions in the longhouse, Khalid asked: “What have you all got in 45 years in Malaysia with all the land, oil and other resources Sarawak has?”

“Vote like how your fellow citizens did on the Peninsula last year. Vote for change and for the people’s right to ownership of the country’s land and its resources,” said Khalid to thumping applause.

Aspects of the evening’s ceramah programme and its reception by the audience suggested that Jawah Gerang had chosen well the political company he currently keeps.

Pictures from Batang Ai, Sarawak: Nomination Day (March 28,2009)

Pictures from Batang Ai on Nomination Day (courtesy of PY Wong of TindakMalaysia)

PKR William Leong (MP Selayang), MB, Selangor Khalid Ibrahim

PAS Dr. Mohd Hatta (MP Kuala Krai)

PKR Sabah showing their support.

Anti-BN slogan from the Dayaks.

PKR supporters raising the stakes.

Start of PKR Procession.

PKR supporters marching to the nomination centre.

Jawah Gerang (PKR), followed by Selangor’s MB Khalid Ibrahim.

Bukit Selambau’s Manikumar is a winner for PKR


bukit selambau by election 300309 kalai vanar pcIt is indeed unfortunate that B. Kalaivanar of our Jerai PKR division together with 500 supporters, according to this malaysiakini report, decided to quit our movement for change. Having made his choice, I wish him all the best in his future political endeavour. He is now free to support to MIC and Mr. Samy Velu, knowing fully well that MIC, not PKR, did nothing for the Indian community for decades. Even Maika Holdings, the vehicle for Indian economic empowerment, is in shambles due to mismanagement and Indian savings were lost.

People often disagree for reasons best known to themselves.To disagree is common, but to quit is rather unusual. A committed man to the cause of freedom, democracy and justice stays on, overcomes the odds, and makes sacrifices.

Anwar Ibrahim and the men and women of Reformasi 1998 are examples of what it would take to change the political landscape of our country. They made the supreme sacrifice and suffered economic hardships and political repression but they are still around fighting for freedom, democracy and justice. Their spirits are strong and their resolve unwavering. Now it is just a matter of time before PKR and Pakatan Rakyat will be in Putrajaya with the help of AlMighty God and the Malaysian people.

To expect our Jerai man to do that is like barking at the moon. He abandons his cause just because his party leadership picks another candidate to stand in Bukit Selambau. Too short sighted and impatient. He should look at himself closely and honestly and understand why he was deemed not suitable to contest this ADUN seat and resolve to do better and ready himself for 2013 or thereabout. In stead he quits with a band of 500 misguided support.

PKR is a party founded on democratic principles. It allows open debate and free expression of views. But at the end of day, a decision has to be made by the top leadership of our party. The decision to field local boy, S. Manikumar was taken after a careful assessment of a number of potential candidates.

One important criterion is winnability. This requires consultation with people on the ground, taking into account the considered views of our party leadership, our friends in Pakatan Rakyat (PAS and DAP), and our strategists and campaign operatives. Anwar made his decision in the best interest of the party he leads. He does it time and time again unfailingly.

Anwar knows that he cannot please everyone when he made his choice, but he and his colleagues are confident that given clean and fair elections, Bukit Selambau’s Manikumar can emerge a winner of the contest between PKR-Pakatan Raykat and UMNO-led Barisan Nasional on April 7, 2009. Mani  is a likeable person, has local knowledge, and enjoys considerable support from Bukit Selambau voters, cutting across ethnicity and culture. Furthermore, we have assembled an excellent strategy and campaign team to support Manikumar. We can win in Bukit Selambau—Din Merican

PKR’s Kalai quits over by-election snub

by S Pathmawathy

March 30, 2009

Jerai PKR division leader B Kalaivanar today resigned from the party along with 500 supporters, claiming that party leader Anwar Ibrahim had forgotten all that he has done for the opposition party.

He is also upset that Anwar had overlooked him as a candidate for the Bukit Selambau by-election. “I am very unhappy with Anwar and PKR. The party has not done anything for the Indian community,” he told reporters at a press conference in Sungai Petani. “They have become ungrateful,” he added.

The Jerai division was also dissolved today following Kalaivanar’s decision to quit the party. About 500 members from the division have opted to follow Kalaivanar out of the party.

Kalaivanar also hinted that he would be throwing his support behind the Barisan Nasional in the forthcoming by-election on April 7. “That will be known in the coming day,” he said.

His resignation from the party was widely anticipated when the party picked greenhorn S Manikumar for the polls, where the party candidate will be facing MIC’s S Ganesan and 13 independents. Kailaivanar, 45, had previously claimed that he stood a good chance of winning the seat as he has a strong grassroots support in Kedah, especially among the Indian community.

He stood as a candidate for the Gurun state seat in the last general election but lost. The former PKR leader, who was Kedah PKR Indian Community Development Committee chairperson, plans to concentrate on his non-governmental organisation work.

Malaysian Police only police some streets, not others

Once again the Malaysian police have shown their professionalism and commitment to public safety. When asked about BN supporters attacking Karpal Singh’s car on nomination day at Bukit Gantang Perak police chief Deputy Commissioner Datuk Zulkifli Abdullah said Karpal Singh had taken the wrong route to enter the Taiping Municipal Council Hall instead of the one assigned to supporters of the opposition parties.

Therefore – according to the police – it’s OK to attack him and vandalize his car?

See The Star.

Of course with the recent deaths of Malaysians held in custody and the plethora of reports showing corruption in the Malaysian police force, including the Royal Commission, this is not much of a surprise.

The UMNO Fox makes a grand entrance at UMNO’s Annual General Meeting

March 30, 2009

Business Times, Singapore

Mahathir Upstages Badawi on last day of the UMNO General Assembly

By S. Jayasankaran

Even as he was making his farewell appearance before UMNO members, Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi got upstaged by his predecessor Mahathir Mohamad. Last Saturday (March 28), when UMNO leaders, including Abdullah, were delivering their winding- up addresses, Dr Mahathir strolled in casually to rousing applause and even posed for pictures with the hapless Abdullah and soon-to-be premier Najib Razak.

Dr Mahathir had been scheduled to attend the assembly on Thursday but was a conspicuous no-show. He explained in his blog on Friday that it wasn’t because his son (Mukhriz) had lost in the contest for UMNO Youth leader (to Abdullah’s son-in-law Khairy Jamaluddin) but because “the Youth has openly accepted the practice of money politics”.

Two weeks earlier, Khairy had been found guilty of money politics by UMNO’s disciplinary board but had been let off with a warning.

Dr Mahathir used that to assail him, UMNO and his father-in-law, saying that the Youth “had destroyed the image of UMNO and the Malays”. He concluded thus: “I felt that I would be tarnished if I was in an assembly of people who accepted corruption.”

The sentiment didn’t last long, apparently, because he was there the next day accepting all the adulation heaped on him by the very people he had scorned. You had to feel for Abdullah. But even if Dr Mahathir hadn’t showed up, one wonders if the outgoing PM could have exited in a blaze of glory. His speech, for example, was brilliant except that it was marred by delivery: it was frequently interrupted by bouts of coughing that did little to add sparkle to what was otherwise splendid, content-wise.

And one went away with the distinct feeling that his party did not agree with what he said. When Abdullah warned against returning to “the old ways” of curbing dissent and clamping down on individual freedoms, the delegates sat on their hands and there was little applause.

Indeed, much of Abdullah’s tenure was like his speech: good intentions marred by poor delivery. His legacy is one of a fundamentally decent individual who may have been overawed by the enormity of the task facing him.

Najib has an even more enormous task awaiting him: he is beset with a sharply slowing economy and a need to inspire renewed confidence among a citizenry growing mistrustful of government. He is aware of this and has repeatedly spoken about the need of “reforming” UMNO and forming a “credible” government with a Cabinet line-up that inspires trust.

But Najib is shackled by tradition, and party tradition dictates that he look for Cabinet choices among the leaders that Umno elects. And although various commentators have tried to put a kind face on things, many among the 25-man Supreme Council the party elected last Thursday hardly inspire trust.

Najib gets sworn in this week. And he is likely to announce his line-up and his national agenda to a curious country next week. He will have much to ponder upon. The only thing he can be sure of is that his predecessor Abdullah is unlikely to criticise anything he does. Dr Mahathir, on the other hand, will have no such scruples.

Two Versions of the same story, one by Rocky Bru (Ahairuddin Attan)

Yang peliknya, ada orang itu suatu ketika pernah duduk dalam kerajaan. Tapi kini bila sudah menjadi pembangkang, tiba-tiba dianggap bersih seperti malaikat, putih bersih seperti bayi yang baru lahir. Hakikatnya saya dan kita semua tahu siapa dia sebenarnya.

—Najib Razak on Anwar Ibrahim in his Acceptance Speech on March 28, 2009

The Malaysian Insider

Kuala Lumpur
March 30, 2009

UMNO leaders’ embrace at party congress spells for Anwar Ibrahim

The past, present and future prime ministers of Malaysia put years of backstabbing and badmouthing aside when they embraced at the UMNO party’s congress – and that could spell trouble for opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.

It was a stunning moment of public unity for Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, his predecessor Mahathir Mohamad and incoming leader Najib Razak, a trio whose brawling has been a boon for the opposition.

The moment came on Saturday after Dr Mahathir – who resigned from the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) in 2007 out of anger with Abdullah – walked into the venue with his wife, Dr Siti Hasmah. Abdullah was winding up proceedings on the final day of the five-day congress of the party, which has dominated Malaysian politics.

The delegates cheered the elderly couple and Abdullah, repeatedly labelled “good for nothing” by Dr Mahathir, saw them coming. He praised Dr Mahathir as a great leader – and invited him up on stage. Dr Mahathir formally shook hands with his successor, but Abdullah broke the ice, pulling Dr Mahathir in and embracing him warmly. Najib joined them in the embrace – and delegates went wild.

The Malay language Mingguan Malaysia ran the photograph under the banner headline: “Finally, united again!”. Denison Jayasooria, political scientist at the National University of Malaysia, said the moment may prove vital. “I think their rapprochement is for real, and has been forced on them by the political realities that UMNO is politically retreating and also because the UMNO grassroots are demanding they close rank,” he said.

“From here on, they will consolidate and train their guns on Anwar … Anwar is the key, he is the glue that is holding the opposition together.” Anwar, who goes on trial for sodomy this month, was repeatedly attacked during the UMNO meeting.

Former UMNO youth wing leader (now one of the Vice Presidents) Hishamuddin Hussein led the charge last Tuesday, accusing him of various “crimes” including criticism of Malaysia’s royal families, generating negative media reports in the international press and tarnishing the country in foreign forums.

Najib, who is taking over as prime minister on Thursday, lambasted Anwar’s morality. “As opposition leader he claims to be as innocent as angels … like a newborn baby, but we know who he really is,” Najib said, without naming Anwar.

Tian Chua, a senior leader in Anwar’s Keadilan party, said the repeated targeting of Anwar was “sad”. “They demonised him, and made veiled threats of entrapment and imprisonment,” he said, adding that he believed the rise of Najib would herald a new era of repression.

Chua cited a recent ban on two opposition publications, the suspension of opposition lawmakers and police action to break up opposition rallies as examples of the hardline policies favoured by Najib. “Repression will worsen after Najib takes power,” he said. “Anwar is prepared for the worst.”

UMNO will face its next electoral test on April 7, with three simultaneous by-elections. In Bukit Gantang in Perak state, a seat in the national assembly is up for grabs. The other races are for state legislature seats.

Some 15,000 opposition supporters and 5,000 from the ruling National Front coalition turned out yesterday to nominate their candidates. – South China Morning Post

My Paper
March 30, 2009
by Ahairuddin Attan (aka Rocky Bru)

Najib’s nifty first moves

Yesterday (March 29) was Nomination Day for three by-elections scattered around Malaysia, which will prove a tough test for Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak.

Yet, as Malaysia awaits his swearing-in as the next prime minister this Friday, his first moves at the UMNO party general assembly last week suggest he may be equal to the huge challenges facing him.

The Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition he will helm has lost its two-thirds majority in Parliament, ceded four states to an opposition alliance and – after the gruelling UMNO elections – is saddled with unpopular names like Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin in the line-up. Then there’s the economic gloom.

Yet even a constant Najib critic like the blogger known as Sakmongkol, a former lawmaker, has acknowledged the new leader made the right moves.

First, in his acceptance speech as UMNO chief last Saturday (March 28) , Mr. Najib projected humility and made no attempt to use his new platform to take potshots at political opponents inside or outside UMNO. Malaysians will like that. Not once, for example, did he mention Anwar Ibrahim, the opposition chief who has been demonising him endlessly.

Second, Mr. Najib is trying to bring together former premier Mahathir Mohamad and outgoing leader Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, saying he was planning a meeting with the two statesmen to bury the hatchet and help him rebuild UMNO and Barisan Nasional. The Mahathir-Abdullah spat is often cited as a key reason for last year’s BN elections flop.

Malaysians are also encouraged that their future prime minister seems to be on the ball with regard to the economic meltdown.

Mr. Najib announced during the UMNO meet that he will launch a website to show the people just how the new RM60 billion (S$25 billion) mini-budget will be sourced and spent. This shows, one netizen remarked, that Mr Najib cares about being transparent.

There is talk he may engage former finance minister Daim Zainuddin to strengthen Malaysia’s ties with other countries.This should go down well too. The UMNO elections have given Mr Najib a line-up of leaders drawn from different corners of Malaysia, giving him a good chance to unify his fractious party as he fights corruption.

Even if BN loses all three by-elections taking place next Tuesday, all the blame won’t be heaped upon the new captain at the helm. And I haven’t even mentioned Mr Najib’s chance to wow Malaysians with a dazzling Cabinet line-up, which should show how serious – or not – he is about making changes in the government.

Of course, Malaysians will recall that his predecessor also had an excellent start after taking charge in 2003 – before things began falling apart.