Abang Jo’s minor and major headaches

Medicine and healthcare. — DayakDaily.com file pic. // Photo: Pixabay

Commentary

The date of polling is anybody’s guess now. The latest information being circulated is that Parliament will be dissolved on Feb 22 while nomination day will be held on March 13, followed by polling on March 24.

Regardless of whether the circulated message is a leak or speculation, one thing is for sure, the 14th General Election (GE14) will be held in the first third of this year.

For Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg (also popularly known as Abang Jo) who took helm of the state just over a year ago, this coming election is an exceptionally important one because it is his first test. After a year, Sarawakians are familiar with his style of administration and his direction in terms of state policy and development. What we have yet to see is his political wisdom, intelligence and prowess.

Politically, Abang Jo has inherited two headaches. The first headache is imminent. It is the Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB) Triennial Delegates’ Conference, traditionally, known as PBB Convention, which will be held between Feb 8 to 11.

Due to the demise of late PBB president cum then Chief Minister Pehin Sri Adenan Satem as well as the resignation of former deputy president Tan Sri Alfred Jabu, there will a lot of movement and reshuffling of power within PBB.

With Abang Jo assuming the presidential post and senior vice-president Datuk Amar Awang Tengah Ali Hasan taking over Abang Jo’s former post of deputy president, all eyes are now on the senior vice-president’s position left vacant by Awang Tengah.

There is no doubt that Abang Jo would favour PBB Supreme Council member Datuk Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah, his long-time supporter and ally within the party and politics. That was why soon after Abang Jo became chief minister, he initiated a minor cabinet reshuffle to elevate Abdul Karim to a full minister. That was an expected move which all political observers saw coming.

However, Works Minister Datuk Seri Fadillah Yusof has long been PBB Youth chief, and by which virtue, one of the six vice-presidents of the party. With the many upward movements in the party, is it fair that Fadillah should stay put as the Youth chief, and continue to be the party’s vice-president?

On the other hand, Abdul Karim once gave up fighting Fadillah for the Youth chief position in 2010 after the interference of the then president Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud. Due to this, he has remained only a Supreme Council member. Similarly, it is thus also unfair that Abdul Karim should remain where he is and not move up the political hierarchy.

Within PBB, the president is powerful and his wish is every member’s command. So what is Abang Jo going to do with Abdul Karim and Fadillah? It is quite obvious that Abang Jo favours Abdul Karim. However, in terms of party hierarchy, Fadillah has every right to claim and fight for the senior vice-president post. This is the minor headache for Abang Jo.

In this case, it is not a total impasse. The best and most fair option for Abang Jo is to allow them to fight it out, where the winner will become the senior vice-president, the runner-up, to be appointed secretary-general of the party. Both are powerful positions within the party except that whoever becomes the senior vice-president would be one step closer to the chief ministership.

The contention between Abdul Karim and Fadillah is just a minor headache for Abang Jo because it is still a party matter. Everything is still within the confinement of the four walls of PBB. It is a zero-sum game and PBB will still stand as it is.

The major and more detrimental headache for Abang Jo is the contention between Sarawak United Peoples’ Party (SUPP) and United People’s Party (UPP).

Chinese majority areas have always been the pain in the neck of the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition. Even when BN Chinese-based parties stood united, it was an uphill task fighting the opposition. The state BN lost all the six Chinese-majority seats namely Bandar Kuching, Stampin, Sarikei, Sibu, Lanang and Miri in the last GE. Now with the pro-BN Chinese parties of SUPP and UPP still at loggerheads, wresting back the lost seats is nothing but a distant dream.

With GE14 around the corner, SUPP has claimed its BN right to contest in all the seven seats — the aforementioned six seats and Serian, a Bidayuh-majority seat.

UPP, which tried to be realistic, claimed at least two — Sibu and Lanang — or the most, four seats — Sibu, Lanang and two other seats which UPP president Dato Sri Wong Soon Koh had refused to diclose.

The main problem in dealing with the two parties is that, neither of them is strong throughout the state. SUPP is strong in the Southern Region while UPP, the Central Region, and both share equal influence in the Northern Region. Abang Jo would have a hard time choosing one from the other.

SUPP has the legitimacy and the advantage of being a component party of BN, while UPP has its powerful standing in the Central Region. There is no doubt that UPP at least has a fighting chance in Sibu and Lanang while SUPP totally has none in the face of strong opposition, which Wong knows and so does Abang Jo.

For the SUPP-UPP impasse, the best solution of course is for the two parties to patch up and face the opposition in the upcoming election as one united force. However, it is public knowledge that the love-hate relationship between them has gotten too complicated to bury the hatchet. Adenan tried and failed miserably in his attempt.

The headache now belongs to Abang Jo, who had announced earlier that he had a formula to solve the impasse. Will Abang Jo be able to come out with a genius solution for the impasse? This remains to be seen. And if Abang Jo manages to make it happen, he is not only doing himself a favour by removing his own biggest headache, he is also removing the headache of many Chinese BN supporters who are torn between the two parties. — DayakDaily