In Sarawak, Malaysia, a State where none of the racial groups form the majority has been ruled by the fifth smallest group, the Melanaus since the ouster of Stephen Kalong Ningkan, the first Iban Chief Minister in 1968. This was achieved when Taib Mahmud, the current Chief Minister, resigned from the State Cabinet over some Land Issue. Together with the Federal Government, a STATE OF EMERGENCY was declared after Ningkan won the Court case for his illegal dismissal. He was replaced initially by TAWI SLI, an Iban Penghulu from Second Division. Later he was replaced by Tun Rahman who passed the baton to TAIB in 1981, who rules till now.
Ningkan hailed from Sarawak National Party(SNAP). He was replaced by another Iban leader in 1974 when SNAP failed to form the State Government although it won 18 state seats and 9 Parliamentary seats the most, in the first direct elections after Sarawak was granted Independence through the formation of Malaysia in September the 16th,1963. The reason for the failure was that SUPP with 12 state seats agreed to form a coalition Government with PBB which also had 18 state seats. That relationship lasted till now, enabling the Melanaus through RAHMAN/TAIB dynasty to rule Sarawak till now.
The reason for Melanau supremacy till now is the racial politics being played by the National Front in Sarawak. The Iban, the largest of the ethnic group, are not only divided by riverine politics inherited from their forefathers mainly into the Rajang, Saribas, Skrang and Batang Lupar groups derived from their earlier migration routes in the early 1800’s or earlier, but also by the various political parties they formed since Independence.
The Rejang Ibans, fueled by personal hostility between Thomas Kana ( hailed from Kanowit, Batang Rajang) and Stephen Kalong Ningkan (from Betong), formed their own party, PESAKA which later joined Parti Bumiputra- a merger of Parti Negara led by a Kuching Malay and Parti Berjasa, led by a Melanau to form PARTI PESAKA BUMIPUTRA BERSATU or now commonly known as PBB. Jabu, a government servant in the Agriculture Department, a nephew of Ningkan, was courted to destroy his uncle in 1974 and split the Second Division Iban till to-day. He defeated his uncle in 1974 and retained the LAYAR seat till now and has been the longest serving Deputy Chief Minister in Sarawak history.
Sarawak National Party, plagued with internal squabbles since James Wong took over in 1982, in now left with no state or parliamentary seat since 2000 after Tiong faction led by William Mawan split and formed Sarawak Progressive and Democratic Party (SPDP) the same year. Later even James’s own son, Richard left SNAP for SPDP, leaving SNAP with no elected Representative. Since it has been de registered by the Registrar of Societies and is now running only on a Court Order awaiting the decision on a Judicial Review from the Court Of Appeal.
Judging from the results of the last Parliamentary election despite all of its troubles and shortage of fund fighting a well oiled BN machinery in four constituencies of Mas Gading, Serian, Betong and Telang Usan using SNAP symbols in the first three constituencies and its Senior VicePresident using an Independent symbol in Telang Usan, SNAP is alive and well. All kept their deposits. Only it needs funding and more committment and sacrifices from its current leaders to repackage SNAP struggles into a viable political movement to capture the imagination of all Sarawakians who wants a BETTER FUTURE FOR ALL as soon as possible.
SNAP must remodelled itself to stay relevant. It must reunite all its forces. A new shift in thinking in all Sarawak must be forged, especially amongst the most divided dayaks where politics remains a personal vehicle for self survival and glory. A commitment to the State and country must be our common aim to stop the rot that now pervades all in Sarawak – the rising costs of goods and services, the diminishing resources and lack of real opportunities for all.