Split led to dysfunctional S’wak PKR campaign – By Aidila Razak

Malaysiakini.com | 27-Apr-2011 – While BN had a head start through government campaigns, Sarawak PKR was dealing with factionalism which may have cost them several seats in the recently-concluded state polls.

Despite for the first time being able to provide good training for its grassroots as well as to present a coherent message, political scientist Andrew Aeria said PKR’s “deep and vicious factionalism” turned its campaign dysfunctional.

“The two factions, one led by (Sarawak PKR chief) Baru Bian and the other by Malay-Melanau leaders, led to a lot of local power-broking among those vying for candidacy,” Aeria (right) told an audience of about 300 at a forum organised by pollster Merdeka Centre in Selangor yesterday.

As a result of this, said the Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas) lecturer, local PKR leaders were wary of starting groundwork for fear that they would not be selected as candidates.

“For the first time there was ample training given to potential candidates, but this had little impact as preparations for the election started very, very late,” he said.

Besides not having proper grassroots machinery, leading to the importing of peninsular Malaysian party workers unfamiliar with local circumstances, Sarawak PKR also failed to raise enough funds to tide them over, particularly at the local level.

“Baru held a few fundraising dinners in Kuching, Miri and Sibu but locally there was very little of this so there were very few election workers other than candidate hopefuls who would show up to say ‘Hello, I’m ready’, but ready for what? There was real tension and voters felt that,” he said.

Success due to groundwork

PKR’s success in the Ba’Kelalan, Krian and Batu Lintang constituencies, said Aeria, was more due to groundwork than anything else.

In Ba’Kelalan, he said, Baru completed the groundwork at least a year ago while Ali Biju, who won the Krian seat, finished in earnest in October last year.

In Batu Lintang, See Chee How was assisted by an efficient team who managed to translate his support base from Batu Kawah, he said.

Aeria said that a PKR representative who actually did a lot of groundwork and preparation, or at least until polling day, was Padungan incumbent Dominique Ng, and his non-selection was a tell-tale sign of an opposition coalition that is functioning poorly despite its rhetoric.

“On the surface, (Pakatan) looked well but the reality involved a lot of tension, especially over seat negotiations clearly seen when (Ng) was dropped… an end product of tremendous DAP-PKR lobbying,” he said.

While DAP, which had the most experience in Sarawak, ran a successful campaign in the more urban areas, Aeria said that signs of weak cooperation were evident in Pakatan when the other parties were then left to their own devices.

“There was little grassroots-level cooperation where it was more a case of you want that seat, now you’re on your own, even thoughthe leadership shared platforms,” he said.

The cracks were also obvious for fellow Unimas lecturer Faisal Syam Hazis (right), who felt that the opposition parties were “running their own battles” separate from one another.

“DAP was well-equipped but the rest were still struggling to put together their campaign,” he said, showing also photos of PKR’s makeshift banners and DAP’s sophisticated billboards.

Beyond Taib

By working more cohesively together, Faisal Syam said that DAP could then “address the fear especially among the Malay/Melanau that the DAP is only representing the urban Chinese”.

“The opposition also needs to go beyond just attacking (Chief Minister) Taib (Mahmud). After Taib goes, what’s next…no more modal (issues)?” he asked.

Agreeing with him, Monash University media and political science lecturer Wong Chin Huat (left) said the new opposition assemblypersons need also to work harder to maintain support in urban areas.

“Can Pakatan convince electorates that they can do more than SUPP or BN who are in government. Pakatan needs to dominate the agenda to people will remember that they are ones who made the government move.

“Otherwise, BN can put (a good candidate) like Dr Sim (Kui Hian) and say he will be the next deputy chief minister. Do you think Kuching will support Pakatan then?” he asked, suggesting also that the opposition bench set up a shadow cabinet to prove they mean business.