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As Sarawak National Party (Snap) rebels led by deputy president Peter Tinggom go ahead with plans to hold an extraordinary general meeting (EGM) on August 11 to elect new party leaders, beleaguered party president James Wong Kim Min's men are going down to the grassroots to garner support ahead of the party's triennial general meeting (TGM) in February.

Both sides have more or less ruled out, at least for now, the prospect of any reconciliation. This raises the spectre of this component party of the four-member ruling Sarawak Barisan Nasional going the same way as their Sabah counterpart Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah (PBRS) by ending up with two presidents after Aug 11.

The president's detractors including nine elected representatives four members of parliament and five state assemblypersons have made Tinggom the acting president. He is a former deputy federal minister and the present member of parliament for Saratok.

SNAP secretary-general Justine Jinggut told malaysiakini in Bau, about 30km from Kuching, before addressing a Snap Tasik Biru division gathering, that as far as he and the president are concerned whatever decision is taken at the rebel group's forthcoming EGM in Kuching would have no bearing on them.

Illegal cockfight

Describing the forthcoming EGM as an "illegal cockfight", he said it was not being held in accordance with the party's constitution, and would not be recognised.

About 300 Snap members from Bau and the surrounding areas attended the gathering at the Dewan Suarah in Bau town.

Also present were Snap Tasik Biru chairman Kenneth Abey, Snap Tasik Biru Youth chief Granda Aing, Snap deputy secretary-general Edmund Stanley Juggol, who is also a political secretary to the Chief Minister, Snap central executive committee member John Lee, another political secretary to the Chief Minister, Snap treasurer-general Alex Lai, Snap central executive committee member Dennis Chang and former Snap members of parliament Patrick Anek Uren and Ting Ling Kiew.

Wong and the party's senior vice president Richard Wong, the state assemblyperson for Limbang and Wong's eldest businessman son, were away from the state.

Several party supporters carried placards inside the hall urging the party leadership to expel two senior Snap leaders aligned with Tinggom Dr Tiki Lafe (left), the federal deputy minister of national unity and community development as well as member of parliament for Mas Gading, and Peter Nansian, the state assemblyperson for Tasik Biru.

No reconciliation now

A banner supporting Wong as president of SNAP was used as the backdrop for the stage.

Justine said he had met several of those opposed to the president's leadership but they had not talked about the party crisis, indicating that possible reconciliation was no longer on anyone's mind.

He felt the only way to resolve the crisis in Snap was to let delegates decide at the TGM in February whether or not they want Wong to continue.

He added that the party had already replied to the letter from the Registrar of Societies (ROS) seeking an explanation on what had transpired in Snap since the crisis broke out in April.

Justine said the ROS had received minutes of meetings called by Tinggom's group and the latter wanted to know what had been happening in Snap.

"On our part, we have replied to the ROS letter, enclosing minutes of our meetings containing decisions made in accordance with the provisions of the party constitution," he added.

"We have also informed the ROS that we are preparing all our 62 divisions throughout Sarawak for their own AGMs ahead of the TGM in February."

Later, addressing the crowd, Justine said the party headquarters had issued a directive to all divisions in Sarawak to prepare for their respective elections and choose their delegates to the TGM.

Sequence of events

The gathering was organised by the Snap Tasik Biru division together with its Youth and Women sections to explain to members what had transpired within the party leading to the present crisis.

Justine explained the sequence of events starting with the dismissal of the former Snap treasurer-general Ting King Sing, who is also the member of parliament for Bintulu, during the party's central executive committee meeting,chaired by Wong, on April 20, for alleged breach of party discipline.

"When a member has done harm to the party we have little choice but to expel him in the interest of party discipline," he told the gathering.

Snap deputy secretary-general Edmund Stanley Juggol told the gathering that Snap is no stranger to crises since its inception.

One of the most serious was in 1981 culminating in a breakaway group that eventually formed what is now Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak (PBDS), led by Leo Moggie (who failed to beat Wong for the party's top post).

The next crisis was the Ming Court Affair in 1987 which further weakened and reduced Snap's strength after several of its elected representatives left and fought as an opposition against the Barisan Nasional.

"We now see another crisis within Snap with all but one of the elected representatives calling for the president to quit so they could take over," Stanley said.

The Snap leader said the Dayak community, which forms the single largest indigenous group in Sarawak, should ask themselves why their political strength has been gradually eroded over the years.

"The reason is simple: Each time our YBs allow themselves to be manipulated and made use of by outsiders, and of course they are personally rewarded," Stanley said, suggesting that Snap has no place for self-serving politicians who only think of their own personal interests and not that of the party or community they serve.

Personally rewarded

Stanley's message apparently sank in because he received loud applause from the crowd, made up of Bidayuh, Malay and Chinese supporters of the party.

Jemunsan branch chairman Aloysius Dom, an outspoken local leader, criticised the party's elected representatives who oppose the president as "an ungrateful bunch who bit the hand that feeds them".

"Would they have come so far if Wong had not brought them in and supported them all the way?" he asked.

Later, Justine told malaysiakini "if the elected representatives go, the party would have little difficulty in finding replacements".

"If five of them go, at least 10 would be lining up to go in. We have a lot of potential leaders," he added.

Potential leaders

Malaysiakini understands one of the main reasons that precipitated the crisis was talk that Wong or his supporters were urging the party president to replace some of the existing elected representatives who had proved to be unpopular on the ground.

In last year's last state elections, Wong at first had the incumbent for Meluan, the late Geman Itam, replaced by Justine but at the last minute Sarawak BN leadership decided to retain Geman who lost to an independent by a big margin.

"We already had feedback from the ground that Geman could not make it so the CEC decided to have him replaced. But his supporters within the party insisted on him being retained and went to the top BN leadership whose decision in the end prevailed, unfortunately," Justine told malaysiakini .

With prospects of a reconciliation virtually nil now, the two sides are working hard at building up support on the ground and trying to make their committees look legitimate to secure vital recognition from the ROS and the Barisan Nasional.

Meanwhile, malaysiakini understands that the SNAP president has met Sarawak Chief Minister and Sarawak BN chief Abdul Taib Mahmud. It is learnt that Taib has indicated that he (Wong) appears to be losing support and asked what he intended to do about the crisis in Snap.

Wong, it is learnt, has told Taib that he would follow the party's constitution and expects the Tinggom group to do likewise in finding solutions.