Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) and Sarawak Progressive Party (SPDP) although multiracial, but, are dayak-based political parties and their merger will see another colourful political landscape in Sarawak. Such merger of political parties in Sarawak was not an unusual political move to stay in power. In November, 1966 Parti Negara Sarawak (PANAS) merged with Barisan Rakyat Jati Sarawak (Barjasa) to form Parti Bumiputera (a detailed account of the merger could be found in the Malay Politics in Sarawak 1946-1966) and this saw the master-politician, Abdul Rahman Yakub as the President and Chief Minister of Sarawak in 1970. Before the merger, both parties were not strong and SUPP was the only political force in the state at that moment.
The merger also saw the birth of Ketuanan Melanau and also the relegation of the Malay power in Sarawak politics. At least when in the Cabinet of Penghulu Tawi Sli, a Malay was made the Deputy Chief Minister and until now, there has been no Malay being made a Deputy Chief Minister after the birth of Ketuanan Melanau. Until now, no malay had ever became the Chief Minister of Sarawak.
Then in 5th January, 1973 Abdul Rahman Yakub strengthened his power by merging Parti Bumiputera Sarawak with Parti Pesaka led by Temenggong Jugah to form Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB). This political manoeuvring by Abdul Rahman Yakub saw the second weakening of dayak political power. The first weakening of dayak political power was after Ningkan was sacked as the Chief Minister in 1966. Ningkan was replaced by Penghulu Tawi Sli as Chief Minister on 17th June, 1966. The reinstatement of Nigkan on 7th September, 1966 by the court who successfully challenged his removal was short-lived, in which, on 23rd September, 1966 saw the restoration of Penghulu Tawi Sli as Chief Minister. Under Ningkan, the dayaks were very strong politically and the federal government under Tun Razak was very uneasy with his uncompromsing attitude in protecting Sarawak rights, but, after Ningkan was replaced, Penghulu Tawi Sli, could not restore the dayak pride.
The merger of Parti Bumiputera Sarawak and Parti Pesaka on 5th January, 1973 into PBB in actual fact was a political coup which also saw the relegation of SUPP to a weaker position in the state Cabinet under Abdul Rahman Yakub as PBB then overshadowed SUPP with 23 (Parti Bumiputera 13, Pesaka 10) seats against 12 seats in the State Assembly. So as could be seen, Abdul Rahman Yakub was able to weaken the political positions of the dayaks, malays and the Chinese before he handed his baton to his nephew, Abdul Taib Mahmud, thus, making the life of his nephew very much easier, who then until now became the longest serving monarch in Malaysia!
When PRS and SPDP merged, the dayaks are expected to be united behind the merged party with a new dayak image to regain their glory days during the Ningkan era. This will then definitely put them in better political bargaining power within the Sarawak state BN. In the long run, the new dayak image within the state BN may threaten the position of PBB led by Abdul Taib Mahmud. Abdul Taib Mahmud is smart and recalled the tricks of his uncle. Abdul Taib Mahmud, in order to perpetuate Ketuanan Melanau and to see PBB continue to be the backbone of the state BN, had in local press seems to indicate that all bumiputera parties should join into one political identity. Abdul Taib Mahmud was said spoke of the possibility of a merged PRS-SPDP entity one day “joining” PBB of which he is now President. He wants PRS-SPDP merged first into a stronger entity before negotiating with PBS. Of course, common sense always told us that if your position is weak, you have no or little bargaining power, but, I foresee a trap is there for the merged PRS-SPDP!
In that position, you think you are strong, but, when you merge further with PBB you will lose your bargaining power further! This is because the top man will still be Abdul Taib Mahmud and in PBB, the Ketuanan Melanau solidarity is unshakeable! Abdul Taib Mahmud had already built a fire-wall for them where malays within PBB itself was unable to penetrate and what say you a new comer!
When you, the merged PRS-SPDP joins PBB into one new entity, the Chinese in PRS-SPDP, where to go? To SUPP or DAP? This again will further weaken the position of the Chinese in Sarawak caused by the new chemistry.
To SUPP, their position will be threatened further. This is because when PBB becomes stronger caused by the merger, SUPP’s political position will be weaker within the BN. SUPP by now should wake up because since 1970, especially, after 1973 SUPP’s bargaining power declined over the years. In 1974 general election, SUPP was allocated 16 state and 9 parliamentary seats to contest while PBB got 32 and 15 respectively. What a big jump for PBB! Before SUPP joined the alliance government on 7th July, 1970, SUPP was able to contest 30 out of 48 state seats and 19 our of 24 parliamentary seats. In 1978 parliamentary election, SUPP was only allocated 7 seats to contest. In 1979 state election, SUPP was allocated 12, that is, 4 less than in 1974. While both state and parliamentary seats had increased, SUPP also was not allocated more seats as expected.
In recent years, SUPP had not only unable to protect SUPP’s own interest by losing the Chairmanship of SESCo, the Finance Minister’s portfolio, the Mayorship of MBKS and two Assistant Ministers’ portfolios, to name a few. Then, how could SUPP be able to protect the interest of the people who supported SUPP, when SUPP could not maintain SUPP’s own positions and political bargaining power within the BN? Had SUPP not seen that the strong position of PBB is unshakeable within the BN and the only way to regain SUPP’s pride is to leave BN and join forces from outside BN to fight PBB, who under Abdul Taib Mahmud has greatly weakened Chinese interest, whom SUPP claimed to protect, but, in which, SUPP had not been of much help.
So Sarawak politics will see the Melanau race continue to dominate the dayaks, Chinese and the malays. When Abdul Taib Mahmud retires soon, definitely, Taib would wish his son, Sulaiman to take over the Chief Minstership from him to perpetuate the Ketuanan Melanau.