Pundit: Sarawak losses ominous if PKR doesn’t buck up – By Sheridan Mahavera

The unequal performance of PR parties in the Sarawak polls were due to a lack of co-ordination, said Aeria. — file pic

The Malaysian Insider | PETALING JAYA, 27-Apr-2011 — PKR’s dismal performance in the Sarawak election is a disturbing omen of how the party will fare in the next general election unless it institutes painful changes, a political analyst said last night.

Political scientist Dr Andrew Aeria said the party organised a respectable pre-election training programme but it ultimately foundered in making use of those preparations during the campaigning period.

“The campaign itself was too leader-centric,” said Aeria, referring to how campaign materials often featured the faces of the party’s top leaders like Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and Sarawak PKR chief Baru Bian.

“And they did not offer an alternative to the policies the Barisan Nasional was offering. If it was change, then change to what? That’s what people want to know,” Aeria told a forum here last night on the election results and its implications.

He added that if the party hopes to do well, the PKR also needed to replace its “re-recycled leaders” with new ones and have stronger grassroots machinery.

This, however, did not mean that BN could automatically defeat PKR and wrest back lost seats and Selangor, a state where the former is the dominant party in the Pakatan Rakyat government.

Aeria, of Universiti Malaysia Sarawak, said BN must also put through meaningful reforms if it wants to recapture the trust of a public weary of sloganeering.

The PKR fielded 49 candidates in the Sarawak election — the most out all PR and BN parties — but only managed to win three seats: Ba Kelalan, Krian and Batu Lintang.

Its PR partner, DAP, on the other hand, won 12 of the 15 seats it contested. Islamist party PAS won none of the five seats it contested.

BN was able to retain the two-thirds majority in the Sarawak state assembly when it won 55 seats. However, it only secured 54.5 per cent of the popular vote.

Aeria described PKR’s Sarawak campaign as “paradoxical” as it was organised and, at the same time, dysfunctional.

The PKR held pre-election training programmes for polling and counting agents, and for potential candidates.

It also had the support of local non-governmental organisations to tap into widespread anger among Dayaks over ancestral land disputes.

Yet when it came time to the actual campaign, the party was torn by factionalism and infighting between local influential figures over who gets to be a candidate, he said.

“Some candidates were even residing in Kuala Lumpur and flew back to stand in their area. In some places, there was not even a grassroots machinery to help them campaign.

At an earlier press conference, PKR strategy director Rafizi Ramli admitted the party was stretched thinly across the 49 seats. However, it was forced to do so because it did not want to give BN walkover victories in 24 seats.

Initially, PKR had only wanted to contest in 25 seats where it had established a presence and was confident of gaining support.

But it was forced to contest in these 24 other seats because neither of its partners wanted to step up and “share the burden” of standing against the BN, Rafizi said.

PKR’s final decision to stand in these “unwinnable” areas crimped the party’s ability to pool its resources and focus on the 25 seats which it stood an even chance of winning.

Aeria noted that a weakness in the PR campaign was that each party’s grassroots machinery did not work each other.

“There was a lot of co-operation between the leaders of each party in how they staged ceramah together. But there was no cooperation at the grassroots level”.

“Moving forward, all parties, whether in BN or PR need to reform and renew. The electorate is more interested in substantive issues but the parties seem stuck in the past,” Aeria said.