A Cabinet snub leads to a restless BN

By Jahabar Sadiq

May 18, 2013
Latest Update: May 19, 2013 03:01 pm

ANALYSIS, May 18 – When Datuk Seri Najib Razak decided to name 12 East Malaysians to the Cabinet this week, the prime minister was recognising their contribution to ensuring a majority for a Barisan Nasional (BN) government.

The BN chairman’s move was to please the Sabah and Sarawak parties which did better than most of the peninsula-based component parties in the May 5 general elections where the ruling coalition won 133 federal seats, down seven from Election 2008.

But Najib’s gesture is seen as too little and has led to a nascent revolt brewing in Sarawak as some parties believe they deserve better or more posts, leading to a restless coalition that the prime minister had hoped to avoid.

“The rural areas in Sarawak are Barisan Nasional ‘fixed deposit’. If you don’t take care of it, somebody will come by and withdraw it,” PRS president Datuk James Masing told reporters.

PRS won six federal seats but its Datuk Joseph Salang Gandum rejected another turn as a deputy minister while party colleague Datuk Joseph Entulu Belaun reluctantly accepted a Cabinet position.

Another Sarawak party, SPDP, won four federal seats but ended up without any government post. But MIC have two Cabinet ministers and two deputy ministers to show for the the four federal seats it retained.

Two other Borneo parties, Sarawak’s SUPP and Sabah’s PBRS, won one federal seat each and both managed to get a Cabinet position, too.

Therein lies the trouble for the Najib administration.

That there are Borneo parties who feel they are being treated as less than equal in the 13-member coalition although they have won more seats than the others, notwithstanding that parties like MCA and MIC have been longer in BN.

Also, these younger Borneo politicians want Cabinet posts that are relevant to their electorate, not just as a reward for their victory.

“I want to make it very clear here that we are not interested in positions. We are only interested in positions that will be of assistance to the people that we represent. That is important. It must be appropriate portfolios, not just anything,” said Masing.

Salang, a PRS vice-president, was more blunt about rejecting the offer of being a deputy minister.

“The least I expect is for the PM not to make the Dayak look like the flower cosmetic. We have to see not just the current situation but also the future. What I see is disconnection in what we aspire to be. We have been misinterpreted or the federal government could have misinterpreted us as well,” Salang said.

The outburst from PRS and SPDP must also not be seen as a voice in the wild. Both parties are strongly represented in the Sarawak state government that has made sure BN remains strong in the country’s largest state that is already buffeted by a strong urban protest vote.

Ignoring their complaints could lead to these parties reconsidering their position in Sarawak BN and affect its chances in the next state and general elections.

These parties are asking to be treated as equals and government posts to be given in proportion of their victories rather than some getting more than others for reasons only known to the prime minister and his advisers.