Saturday, December 4, 2021

PRS needs a general, analysts say after death of leader Masing

Parti Rakyat Sarawak will need to consolidate its support ahead of widely expected state polls, but it will be difficult to fill his vacancy, they say.

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More than ever before, the Dayaks are expected to pay close attention to Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) following the death of veteran leader James Jemut Masing and with talk of state polls looming around the corner.

As tribute to the PRS president continues to pour in, the matter of who will take his place as assemblyman for the Baleh state constituency is also a question of concern.

Speaking to MalaysiaNow, analysts said party leaders would be under tremendous pressure to retain its 11 seats, including Baleh, in the next state election.

“PRS and its elected representatives and potential candidates will be facing off with their opponents without a general in the coming elections,” Sarawak political analyst Jayum Jawan said.

“It’s like letting wolves into the sheep’s den,” he said, adding that the interim leadership must consolidate its support from the grassroots ahead of the polls.

Masing, the deputy chief minister, died on Oct 31. The 72-year-old had been the Baleh representative since 1983.

James Chin of the University of Tasmania in Australia said electing a candidate to replace Masing would not be easy.

“It will be very difficult for them to find someone in Baleh unless he is related to Masing, and of course the person must encourage more independence,” he said.

“The biggest impact, of course, will be in Baleh where he was the incumbent for so many terms.”

The veteran statesman had defended his seat for eight terms, meaning that for 38 years his constituents knew little of any other political leader.

With his seat now vacant, Jayum said PRS must focus on preparing for the state election, warning that any internal disputes could further fragment the Dayaks.

“Competition for the leadership of PRS would tear the party apart,” he said, citing the experience of Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak after Leo Moggie stepped down as president.

Moggie, the founding president of PBDS, resigned from his position in 2001 as he was contemplating a run at the next general election due in 2004.

This saw the emergence of two factions, one led by Masing which had the support of Taib Mahmud, and the other led by Daniel Tajem, the incumbent deputy president who had Moggie’s support.

“History might repeat itself with PRS,” Jayum said.

PRS deputy president Joseph Salang meanwhile said he would only take on the responsibilities of party leader for an interim period.

Speaking to MalaysiaNow, he said the president’s post would remain vacant.

On claims of a power tussle within the party, he said it was too early for the Supreme Council to discuss the issue of who would succeed Masing.

But PRS is no stranger to internal disputes, with its very formation based on a splinter from the then defunct PBDS.

Masing, who was known for being outspoken, had challenged Tajem for the party presidency in 2003, leading to a split and the eventual dissolution of the party in 2004.

After PRS was established later that year, he ousted the party’s co-founder Sng Chee Hua to assume undisputed leadership.

Masing was first appointed to the state Cabinet in 1994. He rose through the ranks to become a senior minister before being appointed as deputy chief minister in 2017.

Having spent years working for the Dayak community, in the issue of native customary land rights to that of places in the civil service, businesses and institutions of higher education, it remains to be seen who will be chosen to fill his shoes.

After that, the question becomes whether the Dayak support will follow.

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