With Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) scheduled to appoint its president for the first time in 18 years next month, political observers say the results of the triennial delegation conference (TDC) will reveal the extent of stability within the party’s top ranks as talk of a power struggle continues five months after the death of James Jemut Masing.
Masing, the long-time leader of PRS, died on Oct 31 last year. His passing left a power vacuum within the party which analysts warned would need to be quickly filled.
The TDC on May 7 will see delegates deciding on a new leadership line-up including the president, deputy president, vice-presidents and Supreme Council members.
Lucy Sebli of Universiti Malaysia Sarawak said while most of the positions would be decided by the delegates, the final say on the new president would belong to the Supreme Council.
“The post of president will not be contested,” she said. “The party president, according to the PRS constitution, will be appointed by members of the Supreme Council.
“The rest of the posts will be contested via election during the TDC.”
Speaking to MalaysiaNow, she said whoever is made president must be able to strengthen the party’s position in the ruling Gabungan Parti Sarawak coalition.
With de facto second-in-command Joseph Salang currently at the forefront, she said, the Supreme Council might choose him as the new president.
But veteran political observer Jayum Jawan is not convinced that Salang is the party’s best choice.
“Salang is not expected to rise to this position,” he told MalaysiaNow.
“He was there as deputy president because Masing did not feel threatened by him, especially after the Joseph Entulu debacle.”
Jayum was referring to Joseph Entulu Belaun, who was expelled from the party before the 14th general election in 2018. He was replaced as deputy president by Salang, who nonetheless lost his Julau seat after three terms to long-time rival Larry Sng.
The name of PRS secretary-general Janang Bungsu is also being bandied about as a possibility for president, with speculation rife that he and Salang are locked in a power tussle.
But Jayum said neither had what it would take to be the “next Masing”.
“They need the endorsement of party members, especially the 11 assemblymen,” he said.
“Neither has a position in government which signals weakness and is a great disadvantage to both.”
For Jayum, Masing’s sudden death was just another development in the internal strife already existent in the party.
He believes that a dispute over who will succeed Masing is inevitable, pointing to the origins of PRS itself as a splinter party.
“PRS was paralysed with the death of Masing,” he said. “It was as if Masing was PRS and PRS was Masing.
“This is the mentality of the Ibans, before, now and for the foreseeable future.”