KUCHING: James Masing, the outspoken president of Sarawak’s largest Dayak-based party, Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS), says certain groups have been working for decades to divide the Dayaks in order to keep their own communities in power.
In an exclusive interview with FMT, Masing who is deputy chief minister claimed his party was being prevented from growing in size and influence by these groups.
“We have problems growing because we have people interfering with us, whether it’s the opposition or within BN (Barisan Nasional) itself.
“The Dayaks are not allowed to become too strong, because we are the majority group. Some people see us like we are hungry ogres, like if we become too strong, we’ll eat them,” he said.
PRS has 11 seats in the state assembly, far behind the 40 held by the dominant Sarawak BN party PBB headed by Chief Minister Abang Johari Openg.
PRS is the successor party of the once-powerful Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak (PBDS) which was de-registered in 2003 following a leadership crisis.
An offshoot bearing the PBDS name, PBDS-Baru, was later formed but it enjoys little voter support.
Besides PRS, Dayaks are scattered among the memberships of all the other Sarawak BN parties – PBB, SUPP and SPDP – in addition to the off-shoots of SUPP and SPDP.
Masing said the Dayak community was on the cusp of becoming a dominant political force in Sarawak, but two major obstacles barred their further progress.
He said one was the continuous effort by certain communities who had for decades worked to divide the Dayaks so they could stay in power.
The second obstacle was created by the Dayak themselves, who were their own worst enemy, he said.
“The Dayaks must learn not to blame others for their own woes, for their political mistakes, and their instabilities. We must look at ourselves, find out where we went wrong. Only then can we grow.”
The Dayaks have had a tumultuous political history in Sarawak.
The community’s high point came at the time of Malaysia’s formation in 1963 when the Sarawak National Party (SNAP) leader Stephen Kalong Ningkan became the first chief minister.
After Ningkan’s outster as chief minister in 1966, the party gradually lost influence until it was declared defunct in 2013. However, long before then, most of its members had joined PBDS, which came close to toppling former chief minister Taib Mahmud in 1987.
After that failure, PBDS splintered and began its downward spiral.
Masing said the legacy he wanted to leave was to ensure PRS would not suffer the same fate as PBDS once he was gone from the political scene.
“The problem with us is that the Dayak organisations never lasted beyond one president.
“If I’m gone today, tomorrow (PRS) pecah (breaks up). I cannot allow that to happen,” he said.
Hence, in the next general election, he would ensure the party’s candidates comprised those committed to improving the lot of the Dayak community, and who possessed unquestioned loyalty to PRS.
In the state election last year, PRS won all the 11 seats it contested.
This, Masing said, showed that the Dayaks were consolidating around PRS as the party to represent their community.