James Masing: The ‘naughty boy’ in Sarawak’s cabinet

Opinion  |  Francis Paul Siah
Published:  |  Modified:

COMMENT | I first met Dr James Jemut Masing in the early 80s – more than 35 years ago. We were young men then, never mind that he is seven years my senior.

The occasion was the Sarawak DAP Convention on Democratic Reforms and Masing and I were members of the panel. We were invited by the newly-elected MP for Bandar Kuching, Sim Kwang Yang.

The DAP event, held at Holiday Inn Kuching, was a “big deal” for Sarawak DAP. The party captured two parliamentary seats in Sarawak for the first time in the 1982 general election. Sim won Bandar Kuching while his colleague, Ling Sie Ming, defeated SUPP strongman Dr Wong Soon Kai in Bandar Sibu.

I was actually quite surprised when former Sarawak chief minister Abdul Rahman Yakub was on hand to officiate at the opening ceremony. An erstwhile adversary given the highest honour at a DAP do – this has to be politics at its best!

Masing was on the panel as a forthcoming leader of Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak (PBDS) while I represented the local press club in Kuching.

After the event, Masing and I did not keep in touch until many years later. As PBDS was in the opposition in Sarawak, I suppose Masing was in the political wilderness. I also left my home state for a few years to take up a posting in Sabah.

Masing was back in the political limelight when PBDS was re-admitted into the Sarawak BN in 1994. By then, Masing was already a senior PBDS leader and then chief minister Abdul Taib Mahmud appointed him a minister. He has been in the Sarawak cabinet ever since.

Resounding victory

After the 2016 state election, Masing was appointed deputy chief minister by the new chief minister then, Adenan Satem, much to the surprise of many. I suppose the late chief minister thought Masing was deserving of the promotion because he had led his Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) to a resounding victory in the elections.

In recent years, I’ve noticed that Masing has been very outspoken on many issues, especially those affecting the Dayak community. Perhaps Masing thinks that the interests of the Dayaks now weigh heavily on his shoulders as his PRS is now the biggest Dayak-based BN party.

Some time ago, I contacted Masing for the purpose of an article, asking him why he suddenly seems much more radical than his normal self.

He messaged me: “Francis, you can quote me on this. I would rather die with my principles and integrity intact and speak the truth than live on bended knees.”

Well, I suppose a politician changes his priorities and views as he gets older and after having reached the top of his political career. The ambition has been achieved, so it’s okay now to take risks.

I believe this is the case with Masing, so much so that he is now branded the “naughty boy” in the cabinet. His detractors claim that he is merely playing to the gallery but I do not think so, having known the man and his character for so long.

It isn’t a good feeling being walloped by your cabinet colleagues in the media, almost every other week and this is what is happening to Masing the past year.

Before GE14, Masing strongly opposed any attempt by BN leaders to nominate candidates on behalf of his party, stating that “who else knows better than the party itself?” He was whacked by his BN colleagues...

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