FORTY years ago (on 7 July 1970), Sarawak's first coalition government was formed. It was initiated by Parti Bumiputra with Sarawak United People's Party (SUPP) tagging along. Both had won 12 seats each after the elections that year.
The Sarawak Chinese Association which had three seats dissolved itself and its members joined the coalition later giving it a total of 27 seats out of the 48-member Council Negeri (State Legislative Assembly).Parti Pesaka Anak Sarawak (Pesaka) which had nine state assemblymen including an independent was invited. However, Pesaka president Temenggong Jugah ak Barieng turned it down as it wanted the post of chief minister to be given to the party.Sarawak National Party (SNAP) also won 12 seats and was left out of the coalition.
Before the State went to the elections in 1970, the first after the formation of Malaysia in 1963, Sarawak was ruled by the Sarawak Alliance with Stephen Kalong Ningkan of SNAP as the first chief minister.

However things were not going well with SNAP and other members of the Alliance which comprised Parti Pesaka, Parti Berjasa and Parti Panas.Ningkan was sacked by the governor in September 1966 and as a result, SNAP left the Alliance. Penghulu Tawi Sli of Pesaka, a personal choice of Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman, was installed as chief minister after a series of court cases mounted by Ningkan for his expulsion as the chief minister.When the first direct election was held in May 1969, racial riots in Kuala Lumpur also caused the Sarawak election to be postponed to July 1970.

Shrewd moves by Rahman Yakub

In the chaotic and a hung Council Negeri, Abdul Rahman Yakub took advantage of the situation and started to negotiate at first with Pesaka. But Pesaka insisted that the chief minister's post must be given to one of his elected representatives.
Ambitious Rahman then turned to SUPP. He contacted Stephen Yong, SUPP secretary-general and Ong Kee Hui, SUPP president for a meeting.It was a surprised move by Rahman as SUPP had been known to be heavily infested with communist elements. Many of its members had been arrested and others fled to the jungle to conduct their armed struggle against the government.Rahman did not want SNAP as he had been one of those who engineered the downfall of the Ningkan government. SNAP leaders also had no love for Rahman whom they considered a shrewd character who could not be trusted. Certainly they could not work with him.On its own initiatives, SNAP also negotiated with Pesaka and SUPP to form a coalition government. But SUPP betrayed SNAP when it chose to work with Parti Bumiputra (combination of Panas and Berjasa).

According to Yong in his book, A Life Lived Twice, he preferred not to work with an Iban-led government as Kuala Lumpur might "disturb" them in the absence of Malay representatives in the government.But the coalition without Ibans was also equally unstable, so Rahman wisely sent his men to talk to Pesaka leaders including its president Temenggong Jugah. But they refused to meet them. All the Pesaka state assemblymen were kept at the official residence of Temenggong Jugah, who was then the Federal Minister for Sarawak Affairs.There was a story that somehow, Penghulu Abok anak Jalin who had won the Kemena seat on a Pesaka ticket was found having breakfast near the Mayfair Hotel (in Palm Road, Kuching) by Rahman's men. Abok was virtually 'kidnapped' and taken to a house at Ong Tiang Swee Road and from here he was transferred to Arif Hotel (in Jalan Haji Taha).
Efforts to contact other Pesaka state assemblymen were not that easy as all of them were kept and guarded at Jugah's house. However, a letter to Simon Dembab Maja was passed to Jugah's driver who smuggled and gave it to Dembab. As soon as he received the letter, Dembab told his friends he had the urge to take "laksa" and left hurriedly in the official car of Jugah to the open air market in Kuching.

Two Pesaka reps 'kidnapped'

On arrival at the market, Dembab wearing only slippers quickly rushed to the nearby Arif Hotel where he was met by coalition leaders. This story was told by Jugah's driver.Dembab was told that he would be appointed Deputy Chief Minister II and the others present were informed that they would be sworn in as ministers.The 'kidnapping' of the two left Jugah with little choice and his ministerial post was under threat if Pesaka did not join the coalition. Three years later Pesaka merged with Bumiputra to form Parti Pesaka Bumiputra Bersatu (PBB).
Rahman became chief minister from July 1970, until 26 March 1981 when his nephew, Abdul Taib Mahmud, took over.That, in a nutshell, is the historical background to the formation of the coalition.

Today, much development has taken place. Some rural areas have been turned into rural growth centres equipped with infrastructures. And much more still need to be done, for example the construction of roads and supply of electricity and clean water to longhouses.Today, PBB is indisputably the backbone of the state government and the most powerful party; it can even rule Sarawak without the participation of other Barisan Nasional partners. From 21 seats (Bumiputra 12 plus Pesaka nine), it now has now 34 seats – one short of a simple majority. So strong is PBB that its president Taib is considered the "uncrowned king" of Sarawak.

SUPP was once a very strong party and due to internal bickering and stiff challenges from the opposition, it has become a weak party. From 12 seats when it joined the coalition to 19 at its height, SUPP is now left with 11 seats after losing eight to the opposition in the 2006 state election.SNAP has zero elected representatives after a number of crises. Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak was born out of the 1983 crisis but was deregistered 21 years later, suffering also from a leadership crisis. As a result Parti Rakyat Sarawak was registered.SPDP was also formed out of SNAP's second party turmoil in 2002.

Replacement for Taib

Now 74, Taib, looking frail and sickly, is seriously looking for a replacement. He may leave the government after the next state election that may be called before June next year.But what will be the next political scenario be like after Taib leaves the political scene?Where will Sarawak be heading to? Its direction? Soothsayers and fortune tellers are busy predicting the future of the State. Many portend the downfall of the BN state government and the collapse of PBB as the leaders will scramble for top posts in the party.SUPP they say may be reduced to a mosquito party due to lack of support from the Chinese community.Perhaps PRS and SPDP may still win some Dayak seats. Or perhaps the two parties may merge into one entity.Even if the BN state government is still intact, what will happen if the Federal Government goes to the Pakatan Rakyat?If this is going to be the new political scenario, Sarawak will be in deep trouble with or without Taib as chief minister. But many can readily agree that Sarawak needs a change now and that change should start at the very top. A replacement for Taib as chief minister must be found very quickly.

by Joseph Tawie