On the 4th of April, 1999, fifteen years ago today, KEADILAN was born as a party. At that time, I was living the life of an artiste manager and record producer in Kuala Lumpur, oblivious to the political landscape of the country.
On the 1st of May, 2008, nine years later after 4/4/99, the scales fell off my eyes and I saw for the first time. What did I see? I saw a Chief Minister sitting in Economy Class by himself. No bodyguards, no private secretaries, no aides de camp, no entourage, no one. Just himself, reading the newspaper. A 'Yang Amat Berhormat Ketua Menteri' sitting by himself in Economy Class on Malaysia Airlines travelling from Kuala Lumpur to Penang. Earlier, I had seen the same man alight from a taxi and checking himself in at the Economy Class Counter at the Departure Hall of KLIA but I told myself that I was mistaken; impossible for a YAB CM to come out from a taxi!
Why did this shock me? It shocked me because at that time in my life, I would expect to see a Chief Minister travel in style surrounded by his entourage and the trappings of his office and his stature as the chief executive of a state. Instead, I saw a man carrying a briefcase come out from a taxi by himself and then sitting in Economy Class - and that man happens to be the Chief Minister of Penang, a state governed by a new government called Pakatan Rakyat. It was revealing, refreshing and thought-provoking all at once. So this is the difference between Pakatan Rakyat and Barisan Nasional, I told myself. Something to check out.
I recorded the event in my blog ('Mr. Manager', which I have discontinued ever since leaving the entertainment industry), and this event was picked up by other bloggers and went viral, to my complete and utter surprise. Though 'Mr. Manager' blog is no longer accessible, the blog entry exists to today in many blogs and you can look it up here:http://ahbengsworld.blogspot.com/2008/05/youll-know-person-is-bigshot-when-car.html
This episode was a turning point in my life; I began to question my own political stance and even my lifestyle. I began to think of my own state Sarawak. As I researched further, I began to see many things. To cut a long story short, the following year, circumstances led me home to Sarawak as I bid farewell to the ten years of glamorous life I knew and experienced in the entertainment industry in Kuala Lumpur.
Once returned to Sarawak, I decided that just feeling and writing about my feelings was not nearly enough. I had to do something about it. I decided to join a political party in order to give voice and action to my feelings. I looked around.
There was PBB, a bumiputra-based party that was the ruling party in Sarawak and, in my opinion after my research, the source of the injustices plaguing Sarawak. There was SUPP, a majority Chinese based party that was playing second fiddle to PBB. Then there were the Dayak-based parties like PRS, and SPDP - both of which were dancing to the tune called by PBB. I researched without prejudice and came to the conclusion that none of these local parties could or would do anything to change the status quo. Sarawak would remain as it is under these local parties that aligned themselves with BN. I would not find justice for Sarawak with any of these parties. So I looked to the Opposition.
SNAP, the party founded by twelve Dayak leaders who signed the party's Constitution, four of whom were my grandfather Ivory Kedit Ipa, my great-granduncle Lionel Bediman Ketit, my granduncle Charles Ingka Enau and my uncle Matthew Dana, was as good as defunct and although as a scion of the first ever Dayak party, my instincts told me that the golden age of SNAP was long gone and reviving it would be like whipping a dead horse. My father told me how he was escorted by the British intelligence in Brunei all the way to Kuching carrying the Constitution of SNAP, and how the party was formed in my grandfather's home in Lintang Park, Batu Lintang, Kuching. If anyone could claim any right to reviving SNAP today, it is my family. Yet, we know it is a lost cause, and we must make our own history now.
There was DAP, a largely Mandarin speaking party based on socialist principles and the welfare state. I believe in a welfare state where the poor and disenfranchised should be empowered, but at the same time, having read law in the UK during the Thatcher years, I was a true blue Tory at heart and believe that self-determination, entrepreneurship and a free market is the way to go for any nation that does not want to end up becoming a failed state. Socialism did not reverberate too well with me, and it still doesn't, but that does not make me any worse than most socialists I know. PAS was not an option as I am Christian and Dayak. So, being the centrist that I am, I looked at PKR.
This was the only party in Sarawak then (and even now) that held any credibility for me. Why? I looked at its local leaders. I looked at its members. Here was a party that spoke English, Iban, Malay, Bidayuh, Orang Ulu, Melanau and Chinese at its meetings; reflecting the diverse range of people united under its banner - the All-Seeing Eye of Justice. Here was a party that was openly fighting for our people and our lands, our rights and our history. Here was a party that dared to speak out, and very loudly at that. Here was a party that did not place language, race or religion on its 'non-negotiable' list. Here was a party that did not call itself socialist nor capitalist but instead emblazoned JUSTICE on its logo. Here was a party whose local leaders are credible people with proven track records. Here was a party I could trust to be a platform for my beliefs. And so, to cut another long story short, I contacted Baru Bian and signed on the dotted line.
It never occurred to me that PKR was a 'Malaya-based' party. Despite my frustrations with and resentment of how the Barisan Nasional government in Putrajaya continues to blur the time-line of history and Sarawak's equal status to the Federated States of Malaya, I had no qualms aligning myself with a party which was formed in 'Malaya'. My anger is directed at the real culprit - Barisan Nasional. Not 'Malaya'. The large majority of 'Malayans' are just like you and I; law-abiding citizens who want a better future for ourselves. I have many relatives and good friends who are 'Malayans'. Are they the culprits that caused Sarawak to be sidelined by Putrajaya for the past 50 years? Of course not! 'Malaya' and 'Malayans' are just as disenfranchised as us! It is the Barisan Nasional coalition that has robbed ALL Malaysians, including Sarawakians AND 'Malayans'! And let's be honest - Barisan Nasional includes PBB, SUPP, PRS, and SPDP, and there is no way UMNO can accomplish what it has accomplished today without the explicit, implicit and complicit co-operation of Sarawakian local parties and local leaders. UMNO and PBB are symbiotic peas in the pod that grips Sarawak under an iron rule, but more on that later. Which brings me to the issue du jour in Sarawak: AUTONOMY.
The truth is, Sarawak is AUTONOMOUS in practice, though not on paper. On paper, we are just a state within Malaysia. On paper, we give 95% of our crude oil to Putrajaya. On paper, we are under the strictures of the Federal Constitution. On paper, Taib regurgitates the populist and emotive slogan, "NO to UMNO in Sarawak." But in practice, every Sarawakian knows that nobody can touch Taib, not even Najib. In practice, Sarawak can bar anyone it wants from entering Sarawak. In practice, Sarawak has a free hand in running the state without any interference from Putrajaya. In practice, UMNO bows to Taib. Not the other way around. Why? Simple mathematics. Who holds the requisite number of parliamentary seats to keep Barisan Nasional in power? In other words, who is the King Maker? So, in all sense of the word, Sarawak is AUTONOMOUS from Putrajaya already. Pieces of papers are worthless. Numbers of parliamentary seats are everything.
Therefore, the cry for autonomy by those who vilify all things 'Malayan' and uphold all things local is a hollow one. On one hand, Taib has blinded many into believing that we need to cry out for autonomy and keep UMNO out of Sarawak when on the other hand he has struck a deal with UMNO to stay out of Sarawak and in return have PBB become UMNO's proxy. So, let us be frank and ask ourselves: what price are we paying for this form of autonomy that Taib has entrenched us in? Why are we jumping the bandwagon and shouting "Sarawak for Sarawakians" without questioning what comes next after Sarawak becomes independent? Who will rule us? Who has the cash to buy votes when an independent Sarawak goes to the polls? From the frying pan into the furnace? Look at Syria, South Sudan and our neighbour Timor. (Do not cite Scotland - the truth is we have not come to that level of political or democratic maturity to succeed.) Bottom-line, how many Sarawakians are willing to sacrifice their lives and die like the Ukranians for independence? The truth is Sarawakians are too comfortable to go out on to the streets like the Egyptians who had no more options available. Sarawakians know deep in our hearts that we still have peaceful options - the ballot box. So why are we allowing ourselves to be distracted by this sudden call for autonomy, referendum and outright independence? Hidden hands are at work for unsavoury motives. It pains me to see so many of my fellow Sarawakians get taken in by this sly and very clever ploy to distract us from the real issues whilst grandstanding on the emotive subject of "Sarawak for Sarawakians" which reverberates with all of us. The real agenda is to split the Dayak vote yet again.
PKR is becoming a real threat to BN and Taib. So what do they do? Offer Sarawakians the sweet dream of independence by demonising Malaya, UMNO and all things Malayan and in the process demonising PKR too just because of its constitutional address. Then get the Dayaks to vote for a new local based party, or some other vehicle, to thin out support for the real champion of Sarawak - Pakatan Rakyat. Mark my words, after the state election, no one will be pandering the slogan "Sarawak for Sarawakians" if BN wins again.
As I see it, there is no local party willing to go against Taib. PRS and Masing? SPDP and Mawan? STAR and Jeffrey Kitingan who has strayed from one party to another? STAR may offer itself as an Opposition party, but pray tell, who are the leaders leading it now? A party is only as good as the people who lead it. Again, principles written on paper are just ink. Show me credible leaders with integrity who are willing to work at those principles, and then you might get my attention.
Should I support a local party just because it is a local party even if it does nothing to protect the rights of locals? Should I demonise a party just because it originated from 'Malaya' although it is the only party that continues to fight for Sarawak's rights? To crucify a party just because of its address of constitution is short-sighted and simply not intelligent at all. As Baru Bian succinctly said, "I always say this even in ‘ceramah’ – even if the party is registered outside Malaysia, if it fights for your rights and is keen in representing the people of Sarawak, then you should support the party."
REAL AUTONOMY is when the people of Sarawak are empowered, enfranchised and liberated from the iron grip of BN and are able to make decisions for the state of Sarawak WITHOUT interference from anyone, be it from outside or inside Sarawak. Only when Sarawakians can go to the polls and vote in their representatives who will bow to no dictator or just one man or woman will we be truly autonomous.
Last year, at PKR's National Congress, the party amended its Constitution to grant autonomy to the PKR chapters in Sarawak and Sabah. This means that PKR in Sarawak is not a 'Malaya'-based party enthralled to KL but a party which is led by Sarawakians for Sarawakians. In definition, that makes PKR just as local as any other local party. And did you know that every division (cabang) of the party is registered with the ROS based on its local address, and not just registered under one umbrella of the party? Did you know that PKR is the only party where every member has the right to vote for its President - one member, one vote? Is there any other party in Malaysia where every member can vote for the entire line-up of the Supreme Council?
Therefore, in theory and based on the Constitution of the party, the President of PKR can come from Sabah or Sarawak. In the event that Pakatan Rakyat wins Putrajaya and the President happens to be an East Malaysian, and the consensus is for PKR to hold the premiership (become Prime Minister), it is therefore very possible for an East Malaysian to become Prime Minister. Can any leader from any local based party in Sarawak ever dream of becoming Prime Minister under Barisan Nasional, whether in theory or in practice?