The five SPDP rebels may make a bid to topple their leader William Mawan after the party's poor showing in the April 16 polls.

Dato Sri William Mawan Ikom

KUCHING: Is trouble brewing within the nine-year-old Sarawak Progressive Democratic Party (SPDP)?
SPDP, which is a breakaway of the Sarawak Nasional Party (SNAP), lost two seats in the recent state election and its president William Mawan is still under attack for the party’s poor performance.

SPDP members are asking why Mawan has been “deafeningly silent” since the April 16 polls, where the party lost its strongholds in Krian and Ba’ Kelalan to the opposition.

Rumours are that Mawan is still reeling in shock after his strongman, Peter Nyarok, failed to retain Krian and his handpicked Willie Liau lost to Sarawak PKR chief Baru Bian in Ba’ Kelalan.

Mawan’s close aides have speculated that his “silence and often irritable moods” are also to do with his own waning popularity in his home constituency, Pakan.

In the state polls, Mawan retained his Pakan seat with a 1,197-vote majority. His win was allegedly made possible by hundreds of “phantom voters” who came in from Kuching to vote for him.

In the 2006 polls, Mawan won with a 1,763-vote majority and in the 2001 election, he secured a majority of 2,302 votes.

Pakan was the only place in which SNAP did not lose its deposit.

SNAP lost its deposit in all the other seats it contested in the April 16 state election which, for the first time, saw multi-cornered fights in a majority of the constituencies.

Barisan Nasional (BN) lost an unprecedented 17 seats in the polls – 16 to opposition DAP and PKR and one to an independent, George Lagos, whom SNAP has claimed to be its own.

Poor judgment
Knowing himself to be in deep “trouble”, he had pleaded for the BN top guns, including Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, to help out in the campaign, but none were available. In the end, he was left to battle alone.

Mawan’s waning popularity in Pakan has been attributed to several factors, one of which is the allegation that he only favoured his cronies in the distribution of projects including minor rural development projects.

The defeat of Nyarok to PKR newcomer, Ali Biju, in the Krian seat was a big blow to Mawan.

Nyarok has been his strongman since Mawan and eight others formed the party in November after the split from SNAP.

In run-up to the April 16 polls, Mawan had been forewarned to drop Nyarok, who has held the seat for four terms.

Many felt that he had become too “arrogant” and had failed to fulfil his election promises but he refused to listen.

Mawan’s second blunder was to drop Ba’ Kelalan incumbent and SPDP secretary-general Neldon Balang Rining at the eleventh hour in favour of Willie Liau.

Liau was not only ill-prepared for the contest, but was also surprised that he was nominated to contest against Bian, the PKR’s strongman and well-known native customary rights (NCR) land lawyer.

Mawan’s sudden turnaround angered and disappointed Rining and his supporters. Rining, who was then a two-term assemblyman, had allegedly refused to help Liau’s campaign.

Rining had already spent time and money to defend the seat, and had in fact prepared his posters and banners.

His angry supporters not only protested, but also campaigned for the opposition.

Leadership challenge
While all the BN parties and even the opposition have conducted their post-mortems and have redrawn their strategies for future elections, SPDP has not done so.

Mawan’s “deafening silence’ has raised concerns among party members who want to know where the party is heading to.

Among those who questioned Mawan’s silence was the well-known group, the “SPDP 5”, comprising elected state representatives Peter Nansian (Tasik Biru), Sylvester Enteri (Marudi), Rosey Yunus (Bekenu), Paulus Gumbang (Batu Danau) and Tiki Lafe (Mas Gading MP).

The four state representatives who recently conducted their own post-mortem issued a statement expressing concern over the “deafening silence” of Mawan after the polls and wanted to know the future plans of the party.

“Six weeks have passed since the April 16 election. Every party has discussed its performance, its losses and victories and even its future direction, but not the SPDP.

“We are very concerned with the deafening silence,” they said.

Following their “secret” meeting last week, speculations have risen that they might be planning to “challenge” Mawan’s leadership.

According to a FMT source, the four were upset that Mawan had neglected them during the last election and made no efforts to assist them with funding.

In contrast, Mawan, Wong Judat (Merluan assemblyman), Nyarok and Liau received big amounts for their election expenses.

The source said that the five faced difficulty in raising the money for the election and it was assistance from State BN treasurer-general Awang Tengah Ali Hassan which had made their campaigning possible.

Citing an example, the source said Gumbang might not have been able to contest the Batu Danau seat if a Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) leader had not come forward with the money to pay for his deposit and other election expenses.

Ironically, despite these handicaps, the four “rebels” were re-elected with handsome and increased majorities.

‘PBB men’
Now, the “rebels” are toying with their next cause of action – to leave or stay with the party.
It is understood that if they remain in SPDP, then Mawan is in trouble.

Speculations are rife that the rebels are already thinking of Nansian to challenge Mawan in the next party election that could be held next year.

They see Mawan as a weak leader who cannot make any decision without referring it to party treasurer-general and Bintulu MP, Tiong King Sing.

The other option is to merge with PRS.

The source said the fact that Gumbang had received some financial assistance from a PRS leader was a clear indication that they might join PRS “very soon”.

Branded as the “SPDP 5”, the elected representatives had crossed paths with Mawan after the 2009 party election.

In January last year, the five, together with three other council members, staged a walkout during a supreme council meeting in protest against Mawan’s decision to replace Enteri with Rining as the secretary-general.
Before the party election, Mawan had promised to retain Enterie as the secretary-general.

However, after the election Mawan failed to keep his word and this sparked a bitter dispute between him and the “SPDP 5”.

Throughout 2010, the “SPDP 5” refrained from attending any of the party’s meetings and functions. During this time they had closely associated themselves with PRS.

Speculation are that they had already applied to join the party, but the PRS president James Masing turned down their application for fear of criticisms.

Upon the advice of Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak and Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud, the “rebels” were forced to make peace with Mawan just before the state election, because if they failed to do so, they might be dropped from defending their seats.

Now that the election is over, their relationships have remained uncomfortable till this day.

For Mawan and his supporters, who have always suspected the “rebels” to be Taib’s “Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu men”, the fact that they had allegedly received funds from Awang Tengah for their election campaign confirmed this suspicion.

Credit to: Joseph Tawie

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