In the Baram parliamentary constituency, Ibans are the 'kingmakers' and Anwar Ibrahim should quickly realise this, says a grassroots PKR leader.
Given the fact that 42% of Baram’s 29,000 strong electorate are Ibans, it seems most plausible that the opposition fields an Iban, but PKR de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim, however, seems to think otherwise.
Anwar allegedly announced a candidate – Roland Engan, a lawyer – from the Kenyah tribe as a candidate for Baram and this has not gone down well with the Kapit PKR wing which has been actively supporting Iban-boy Patrick Sibat Sujang.
According to Kapit PKR deputy chairman Baginda Minda, sidelining the Ibans “will be at our own risk”.
“You can’t ignore the Iban-factor. This is because the Ibans constitute 12,000 voters or about 42% of the 29,000-strong electorate as compared with Kayans of 6,800 voters, Kenyahs 4,700 and Penans and Kelabit 1,000 voters.
“Chinese and Malay comprise 2,600 and 1,700 voters respectively. If we ignore or sideline the Ibans, it will be at our own risk,” said Baginda, who is Sujang’s chief campaigner.
He was commenting on “unsettling” reports that Anwar had allegedly announced, on Feb 11 in Beluru, that Engan would be the candidate for Baram.
“(Now) the people in Baram are not only confused, but also want answers as to why Roland (Engah) is so special that he is the first PKR candidate to be confirmed ahead of about 70 other PKR candidates throughout the country.
“Is the hasty announcement an indication of trouble within the PKR?
“Was Anwar pressured to announce it in an impromptu manner as an attempt to pre-empt the growing influence of Patrick Sibat, especially among the Iban voters? Or was it an attempt to sideline the Iban voters?” asked Baginda.
Ibans are ‘kingmakers’
Baginda said if indeed Anwar had made the announcement then it would “offend the Ibans” and would be “a fatal mistake.”
Explaining further, Baginda said that although on the surface it may appear than the Ibans are “insignificant” given that they are not directly affected by the Baram dam issue, they were nonetheless “kingmakers”.
Citing examples, Baginda said in the 1990 parliamentary election, Harrison Ngau as an independent candidate contested against Luhat Wan of BN-Sarawak National Party (SNAP) in a three-cornered fight.
But with strong support from the Iban community from Marudi, Harrison won the seat with a majority of 839 votes. Sujang was one of those campaigned for Harrison.
If Ngau had depended solely on Kayan, Kenyah and Penan voters he would have lost.
Baginda said a similar scenario had occurred in Telang Usan constituency in the 2011 state election. Here too, he said, Ibans played an important role.
He said in the 2011 state election, it was clear that the Kayan, Kenyah and Penan communities were split into two – 49% voted for a Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu-BN candidate Denis Ngau, while 51% voted for Ngau.
“The kingmakers here were some 3,000 Iban voters from Puyut and Lubok Nibong polling districts, and in the last state election, they threw their support to Dennis Ngau.
“Denis Ngau won by a majority of 845 votes,” Baginda said.
He expects a similar situation in the 13th general election.
Dam, a non-issue with Ibans
According to him whilst the proposed construction of the Baram dam might be a major issue among the Kayan, Kenyah and Penan communities, it was a non-issue with the Ibans, who were more concerned about infrastructure developments like roads and their native customary rights (NCR).
He said the 2011 state election clearly showed that although the proposed dam was likely to displace some 20,000 inhabitants from 26 Kayan, Kenyah and Penan longhouses and villagers, some 50% of the people from these three communities had not opposed the government and its plan.
Hence, keeping the Ibans happy is all the more important, said Baginda.
“For the Ibans, roads and NCR issues are most important…These are the issues that we [Sujang's group] are highlighting.
“Was Anwar misled into believing Roland [Engah] has the support of the Ibans? Personally, I believe that Roland will have an uphill task in Baram constituency.
“[Because] every time he holds a gathering, his crowd of about 300 or 400 is the same people who are members of the non-governmental organisations [NGOs].
“He [Engah] needs to have the support of the Iban voters.
“But will the Iban voters support him?” Baginda said.