PARTI Pesaka Bumiputra Bersatu (PBB) president Tan Sri Adenan Satem’s recent statement that his party will take up half of the new constituencies carved out in the delineation exercise this December did not come as a surprise. That has been how the state politics been played all this while.
After the 2001 exercise, nine seats were added to the State Assembly for a total of 71 seats (from 62). PBB was given 35 and the other BN component parties 36 – SUPP 19, PRS 9 and SPDP 8.
The number of seats allocated to each party did not come about by accident but as the result of a calculated risk. What it shows though is even with 35 seats against a combined 36 (divided among its three coalition partners), PBB is not dictatorial but democratic in nature in that it is ready to be challenged as the backbone party of Sarawak.
In the perfect scenario whereby the component parties won all their allocated seats, they could always pool their votes to veto any decisions made by PBB.
For argument’s sake, assuming the component parties were to unite as an entity, they could even form a simple majority government without PBB although this would be a very unlikely development under the prevailing circumstances.
Even with one more seat given to the other component parties, the state BN structure itself will have an inherent self-regulating mechanism whereby no one party will be left to govern without any check and balance. And this is seen as the role of the component parties with a dominant PBB in the state BN.
PBB knows of the risk it is taking. Though the door to a challenge is not closed, the opening is small, making the chances of taking over PBB as the dominant partner very slim.
Holding 49.30 per cent of the stakes with the three other component parties sharing the remaining 50.70 per cent, PBB has the biggest say but is, at the same time, taking a democratic stance of sharing power with its partners.
This kind of political make-up is normal in the corporate world whereby the majority shareholders open up their business for sharing but at the same time, exercise a sizeable degree of control that allows other smaller shareholders to participate freely and even the chance to turn the tables although the possibility of this hapenning might be minimal.
The present arrangement of the state BN did not come about overnight but over a period of political development and transformation within the state. In the 1996 polls, PBB took up 30 seats, SUPP 17, SNAP six and PBDS nine. At that time, PBB had 30 seats with 32 going to the other component parties.
For political development in the state to reach its present level, credit is due to former Chief Minister Tun Pehin Sri Taib Abdul Mahmud. He led the state BN to seven state elections and in the process, laid the foundation for politics in the state to attain the maturity we see today.
To ensure its own survival and the political stability of the state, PBB will definitely opt to maintain its position of having one seat fewer than the total allocated to the other component parties. That’s probably why even as the EC is yet to complete its delineation exercise, Adenan has already made it plain and simple that PBB will demand half of the new seats created.
And who can blame him when he has perfectly good reasons to ask for half the number of seats in the interest of the political stability of the state which PBB has always been able to provide.
While the other component parties were suffering different degrees of setbacks – a heavy blow for SUPP and minor slips for SPDP and PRS in the last state election, Adenan is within his discretion to make such a demand because PBB had retained all its 35 seats.
While the prediction of new state seats is nine, there is also a higher possibility that the number might be either eight or 10 to avoid the scenario of a “hung” State Assembly. It is also believed the number of delineated seats is likely to be an even number to maintain the ratio between PBB and the other component parties to retain the status quo.
With eight or 10 seats, half will definitely be claimed by PBB. It is likely the other component parties may share the rest, excluding the new equation of BN Plus – UPP and Teras — due to objection from SUPP, SPDP and PRS. PBB will have abide by a prior agreement that any decision on new membership within the state BN must be made through consensus among all the component parties.
If eight seats are created, both SUPP and SPDP may be given one seat each based on their results in the last election while PRS (an offshoot PBDS) might be given two given that it performed quite well in the 2011 ballot and that the old party (PBDS) did not get any new seats in the 2001 delineation exercise whereas five seats then went to PBB, two to SUPP and two to SPDP (an offshoot of SNAP).
And in the case of 10 seats, the possible scenario is SUPP might be only given one due to its poor performance in the recent elections — both state and parliamentary — while SPDP and PRS may get two each.
As for the BN-Plus parties — Teras and UPP — it is believed they might be allowed to contest in any of the seats allocated to SPDP and SUPP. Such an arrangement will also solve the problem of overlapping seats among SUPP and UPP as well as SPDP and Teras but could, of course, open up the contest for the opposition.
Parties under the BN brolly — especially UPP and Teras — will have proven themselves worthy of being as accepted as component parties of the state BN if they bring in the votes to ensure victory in the elections.
Politics, is, after all, ruthlessly pragmatic.