KUALA LUMPUR, March 5 – Sarawak Pakatan Rakyat (PR) will likely engage the help of former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s sister-in-law to boost its campaign in the coming state polls.
The Sarawak-born Clare Rewcastle Brown has been on a crusade against Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Raib Mahmud, and has been using the Internet and radio as avenues to reveal damaging exposes on the strongman’s alleged corrupt practices.
Operating from a flat above a restaurant in Covent Garden, London, the 51-year-old investigative journalist currently runs the popular Radio Free Sarawak station (RFS) and Sarawak Report blog, and has pledged that her work targets to give “the 2.5 million oppressed people of Sarawak a choice”.
When contacted, PR leaders in BN’s east Malaysian stronghold expressed interest in Rewcastle Brown’s work, hinting to the likelihood that they would arm their campaign with materials containing some of her exposes.
Sarawak PKR chief Baru Bian (picture) told The Malaysian Insider that many party leaders and members have already been in close contact with Rewcastle Brown.
“We have not officially engaged with her as a party but in terms of our members, yes, we have been working a lot with them,” he said.
He explained that many PR leaders, including himself, have already been interviewed on RFS and have even helped the station compile documents and information on Taib’s alleged corrupt dealings.
“We have also copied some of their materials down on CDs for distribution. From what I hear, they are very popular in the longhouses,” he said.
Baru admitted that the penetration of Internet and radio services in Sarawak was relatively low but pointed out that the rural communities would then have to be reached manually.
“That is what we are doing. And people are responding well. I think it is a very good strategy to work with her (Rewcastle Brown),” he said.
Sarawak DAP chief Wong Ho Leng agreed with his PR comrade that Internet penetration in the inner recesses of Sarawak was low.
“So not everyone understands or knows what has been released on RFS or the Sarawak Report blog.
“They generally do not have much access to these kinds of information so we cannot bank too heavily on that to help us,” he said.
However, Wong said that it was a “good idea” to engage with Rewcastle Brown in the coming polls, speculated to be held by early next month.
“Yes it may be a good idea to engage with her to help us with our campaign,” he said.
Since she kicked off operations on RFS and Sarawak Report, Rewcastle Brown has been highly critical of Taib and his administration but claimed to The Malaysian Insider recently that she had no political agenda.
“We are not motivated by malice, only by concern for the people of Sarawak and the priceless Borneo jungle that has been destroyed by the greed of just a few people,” she said.
She had publicly taken responsibility for the two media organisations last week and came out in the open in a report carried by the London Evening Standard.
In the article, Rewcastle Brown revealed both her identity and that of a tattooed Dayak tribesman known as Peter John Jaban or “Papa Orang Utan” to his listeners, as the two individuals behind RFS.
According to the tabloid, the duo thought it timely to reveal their identities in view of the coming state polls and their objective was to “expose the alleged corruption of Abdul Taib, who has ruled over Sarawak for 30 years”.
They had apparently kept their identities secret over the years for fear that the 74-year-old Taib, described as one of the world’s most ruthless and wealthiest man and richer even than the Sultan of Brunei, would seek them out with “the full force of his retribution”.
In her interview with the tabloid, Rewcastle Brown also revealed claims that Taib and his family had property empires that spanned Canada, the US and the UK through funds generated by the sale of rainforests and with some money going through the British Virgin Islands.
After publicly taking responsibility for the two media, Rewcastle Brown was then accused by Sarawak BN backbenchers chief Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah of being “malicious and dangerous.”
“They have campaigned not only against the Chief Minister but also the nation ... inciting one race to go against another,” Abdul Taib’s political secretary was reported to have said.
But Rewcastle Brown has insisted on pressing on with her exposes and has even spoken kind words of Baru, whom she called a “charismatic human rights lawyer” in the London tabloid.
“Baru Bian inspires hope of real change in the upcoming election, but scandalously only one-third of the electorate are registered to vote and the corrupt Malaysian government turn a blind eye because Taib always delivers them Sarawak, their richest state,” she was quoted as saying.
Baru told The Malaysian Insider that this time, the opposition pact was the most prepared it had ever been in the past to face the coming polls.
But talk is that PR will be facing an uphill battle in Sarawak after having lost much of its momentum to BN in the last few by-elections.
It had scored an upset win during the Sibu parliamentary polls last year when Wong secured the seat in a wafer-thin majority against BN’s candidate, Robert Lau Hui Yew of the Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP).
At present, Sarawak BN holds 63 seats in the state’s 71-seat assembly.
SUPP holds 12 seats while its partners Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) and Sarawak Progressive Democratic Party (SPDP) have eight seats each.
Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB), helmed by Taib, holds 35 seats.
But since the Sibu by-election in April last year, PR has lost in three other polls – Galas, Batu Sapi and Tenang – failing even to retain its hold over Galas in PAS’ Kelantan stronghold.
“We must take note of these losses and cannot bank solely on our Sibu victory to assume that we will do well this time. Much has changed since then and PR has lost many by-elections,” said Wong.
At present, PR is said to be fighting losing battles in the twin by-elections of Kerdau and Merlimau, both constituencies that were previously BN-held.
“So we have to remember this and tread cautiously. We need to concentrate on bringing the information to the people,” he said.
Abdul Taib said today the coming state polls will not hinge on celebrations for his 30th year in power this March 30.
The state Barisan Nasional (BN) is holding a rare convention tomorrow ahead of the polls which must be held this year as its mandate ends on July 23.