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KEY BATTLEGROUND: General election date must not clash with Kaamatan, Gawai festivals
FOR a supposedly beleaguered political leader, Sarawak Progressive Democratic Party (SPDP) president Tan Sri William Mawan Ikom had a pretty good week.
With his party radically slimmed down following the recent expulsion of five of its sitting elected representatives (one member of parliament and four state assemblymen), Mawan secured his own position as party president for another term unopposed at the party's triennial general assembly in Bintulu over the last weekend.
A key Mawan loyalist, Bintulu MP Datuk Seri Tiong King Sing -- reputedly the source of much internal party friction that led to the spate of expulsions -- also won unopposed as the new party deputy president.
The consolidation of Mawan's leadership of the party also won an unexpected boost from Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud, who opened the SPDP assembly by declaring that the Barisan Nasional candidate for the Mas Gading parliamentary seat now held by expelled MP Datuk Dr Tiki Lafe, will be nominated by SPDP.
That might have been a fairly obvious concession based on normal BN conventions but given political developments within the Sarawak BN in recent years, what normally would be regarded as obvious had become less so.
Fellow state BN party Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) had to fight right till the end for its prerogative to nominate the candidate for the contentious Pelagus seat in the last state election when the incumbent then, Larry Sng, was expelled from PRS.
Even so, that was a bad precedent that BN bears watching. PRS eventually lost Pelagus to an independent candidate aligned to Sng. If SPDP is not careful in the coming general election, it may yet lose Mas Gading if the ground is divided between the current incumbent and any new candidate fielded by SPDP.
But with the controversy over Mas Gading shelved at least for now, Taib was able to boast about BN reclaiming its traditional two-thirds parliamentary majority lost in the last general election.
Taib's confidence about the BN's electoral prospects cannot be dismissed as an empty boast given his record of delivering Bumiputera-majority Sarawak seats for BN. It will thus be soothing music to the ears of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.
Sarawak's 31 parliamentary seats are a key electoral battleground in the next general election.
Even allowing for the continuing disfavour that voters in the state's Chinese-majority constituencies regard BN, winning 25 parliamentary seats for BN from Sarawak is highly conceivable.
Sarawak -- and Sabah -- thus remain the much-vaunted "fixed deposit" that Najib can almost bank on not just to secure victory but, if Taib is to be believed, even a two-thirds victory.
But if Sabah and Sarawak were to be really BN's "fixed deposit", BN national leaders need to be more careful when throwing out hints about the likely dates for the general election. The latest speculation about June 3 as polling date went down almost like a stone over water in Sabah and Sarawak, where the Kadazans and Dayaks respectively will be celebrating the Kaamatan and Gawai festivals at that time.
Rightly or wrongly, the speculation over June 3 appears to be regarded as typical insensitivity on the part of those outside the two states about what is considered important here. Surely nobody would even remotely consider having the general election amid Hari Raya Puasa Aidilfitri or Chinese New Year festivities.
Pronouncements about the centrality of Sabah and Sarawak are easily negated when important decisions -- or even just intimations of such decisions -- are taken with apparent disregard for what happens in both states. Such needless hurt should, therefore, be avoided.