Glimmers of hope or false dawns?

On Friday, glimmers of light appeared at the end of the tunnel for Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP) and Sarawak Progressive Democratic Party (SPDP) – two parties stuck in the quagmire of internal struggles.

These rays of hope came in the form of offers for reconciliation from factions locked in the disputes in the two Barisan Nasional (BN) parties.

The split in both parties were sparked by dissatisfaction among several senior members and their supporters with their presidents and their men – or more precisely a power struggle.

Both crises dragged on for several years, and while the situation in SUPP remains murky with both sides still at daggers’ drawn, the struggles in SPDP have subsided with party president Tan Sri William Mawan Ikom having seen off the challenge of the rebel Group of Five (G5).

In fact, Mawan’s offer to invite some of the G5 members back to the party fold came as a surprise as he had just confounded his detractors and political pundits who predicted the demise of SPDP in the recent 13th general election. The party emerged from the May 5 polls stronger, so it seemed more logical for the party’s former leaders in G5 to knock at the party’s doors to be allowed in.

However, Mawan, who is also Minister of Social Development, is an old hand in political games. He has gone through many upheavals in his career and you can be sure he knows what he is doing.

But then again one can argue that he might have won a major battle, but the war is not over yet. The G5 might have taken a punch on the chin during the recent polls when one of their members, Datuk Dr Tiki Lafe, lost Mas Gading to Anthony Nogeh, the candidate chosen by SPDP to contest in the predominantly Bidayuh constituency, but they are not out yet.

When the group, whose other members are assemblymen Datuk Peter Nansian Ngusie (Tasik Biru), Datuk Sylvester Entri (Marudi), Rosey Yunus (Bekenu) and Paulus Palu Gumbang (Batu Danau), was in the party, contending with them was straight forward as Mawan could wield the party’s constitution at their faces.

Now that they are out of the party, he cannot throw the book at them anymore. But they still pose a serious threat to SPDP.

The G5 might be out of SPDP but its four assemblymen are helming state seats allocated to SPDP within the state BN, a situation which points to a repeat of the conundrum in the recent parliamentary election when Dr Tiki refused to give way to Nogeh as the BN candidate in Mas Gading.

Mawan will not want to see a repeat of the tussle for the BN mandate in the next state election, and so he made his move to thwart the threat posed by the G5 by extending an olive branch to some of the G5 members on Friday.

In doing so, Mawan is applying two classic political tactics – destroy your enemy by making them your friend, and weaken your adversary by dividing them.

It is likely that the ‘partial reconciliation’ offered by Mawan was for Paulus and Rosey, the two minor players in the G5, as it would be very difficult for Nansian, Entri and Dr Tiki to rebuild the bridges they burnt during their acrimonious parting from the party.

Can Mawan succeed in his game? I will not bet against it, and there is a faint possibility that the whole group might even make a comeback – politics is the art of the possible.

Nansian, in his press conference yesterday, did not entirely dismiss the idea of reconciliation, but the fly in the ointment is that the offer is limited to only some members of his group.

The G5 will have to swallow a big dose of humble pie to return to SPDP, but if both sides are willing to compromise it could happen.

Meanwhile, there has yet to be any response from SUPP president Tan Sri Peter Chin to the proposal by his party’s Bengoh branch chairman Dr Jerip Susil for a heart-to-heart talk on how to meet the threat of deregistration by the Registrar of Society (ROS).

It was clear that Dr Jerip made the offer on behalf of the faction led by SUPP Sibu branch chairman Dato Sri Wong Soon Koh which comprised all the party’s state assemblymen and a former MP.

Chin has brushed off the ROS show-cause letters to his party’s Piasau and Bekenu branches as ‘normal investigation procedures’ and did not even see a need to convene a meeting to answer the letters.

He was either trying to allay fears of the members that the party faces the danger of deregistration or he was deluded that the show-cause letters are matters that could be taken lightly.

Dr Jerip rightly pointed out that the ROS only issues show-cause letters after its investigations had found gross irregularities in the party. This common threat facing both factions could spur them to work together to save the party as Dr Jerip suggested, and Chin’s faction should consider this option.

The offers of reconciliation could be rays of hope for SUPP to heal its festering wounds of disunity and for SPDP to reconcile with its former leaders. Or they could prove to be false dawns.

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