Sibu vote forces Pakatan’s hand in seat talks

By Adib Zalkapli (Malaysian Insider)
KUALA LUMPUR, April 9 — The Sibu by-election, triggered by the death of Barisan Nasional’s (BN) Datuk Robert Lau today, has brought a greater sense of urgency to talks between the DAP and PKR, the two main Pakatan Rakyat (PR) parties in Sarawak.
As state elections loom, DAP and PKR are still locked in a tussle over which party gets to field candidates in at least five state constituencies which are considered opposition strongholds.
The two parties last held talks in late January but did not reach an agreement on the seat allocation.
The Malaysian Insider understands that another round of talks is planned for the middle of this month.
But Lau’s death today means the two sides will have to meet sooner to decide who contests the Sibu by-election.
In Election 2008, both PKR and DAP fielded candidates in the contest which was eventually won by Lau.
Lau, from Sarawak BN party SUPP, defeated state DAP chief Wong Ho Leng and PKR’s Lim Chin Chuang in a three-cornered fight to win his fifth term as Sibu MP.
The SUPP man won by a majority of 3,235 votes. He garnered 19,138 votes against Wong’s 15,903 and Lim’s 812.
Despite signs that state polls could be held anytime soon, both parties have moved no closer to an agreement.
Leaders from both parties said, however, that they were confident seat negotiations could be concluded ahead of the state elections which must be held by the middle of next year.
“We are going to have a fourth round of negotiations in the middle of April. There are still five seats undecided,” said Wong, who expects the elections to be called in September.
Wong refused to disclose the contentious seats.
But it is understood that the seats are mainly urban, Chinese-dominated seats which both parties are confident of winning.
In Election 2008, the two parties could not come to any agreement and were caught in a three-cornered fight against BN in the two federal constituencies of Stampin and Sibu. Both were won by the ruling coalition.
Sarawak PKR chief Baru Bian said he was confident a three-cornered fight with BN could be avoided in the next state elections.
“I’m always very positive, I think we are confident this whole thing will be settled. Our objective is to ensure straight fights and to field winnable candidates,” Baru told The Malaysian Insider.
The lawyer-activist however refused to say the number of seats the party is going to contest, saying that “it is subject to our negotiations with our coalition partners.”
Currently, PKR controls only the urban Padungan state seat in the Sarawak assembly.
“I have told the machinery to be ready, the election can be held as early as June, if later than that it will be a bonus for us,” said Baru.
The DAP, which controls six seats in the 71-member state legislative assembly, has said it intends to contest 20 seats this time.
In the 2006 state elections, DAP fielded 12 candidates, PKR 25, SNAP 29 and PAS one. Twenty independents also tried their luck.
“We expect to win all. We don’t go in for fun. If you look at the general election in Perak and Penang, DAP won all the seats we contested,” said Wong.
The opposition collectively won nine seats in 2006, its best performance ever due to the increase in land premium payments and oil price hikes, which took place just two months before the state assembly was dissolved.
DAP and PKR are hoping to better that performance, but they will first have to settle their differences for the Sibu by-election.