ELECTION TALK: Ba’Kelalan assemblyman Baru Bian knows very well that he is the prime target of the ruling coalition and will face the Barisan Nasional juggernaut in the coming polls. But he is prepared for them.
“I expect a lot of promises, a lot of money to be poured into my constituency. There will be ‘zinc projects’ here and there,” he said.
Such promises have always been made every time there is an election, and these are their “election gimmicks” to hoodwink the people into voting for the BN candidate, he said.
Chief Minister Adenan Satem has announced a sum of RM29.2 million for the stalled road projects in Ba’Kelalan, and has pledged more projects for Ba’Kelalan.
“I have done my best to serve the people of Ba’Kelalan, and I leave it to them to judge my performance in the past five years,” said Baru, who is also the state chairman of PKR.
Out of 10 issues, he listed religious freedom, native customary rights (NCR) land, GST, basic amenities like schools, water, clinics and roads as well as drug abuse as the top issues that he has been fighting for or against.
“Religious freedom is very important to the people of Ba’Kelalan where nearly 100 percent of them are Christians.
“The next top issue is our NCR land. Even lands surrounding our villages are taken away from us,” he said, adding that he has been fighting throughout his life for NCR land rights.
Baru, who is a specialist in NCR land law, has won a number of NCR land cases.
He cited Adenan’s proposal to convert some 120,000 hectares of land in Ulu Trusan, Lawas as a forest reserve.
When he made the announcement, Adenan did not know that almost all the 120,000 hectares of the land are NCR land belonging to the Lun Bawang.
The Lun Bawang protested through Baru who threatened to sue the government if it proceeded with its proposal.
If the proposal went on, it would leave the Lun Bawang small portions of land for their villages, and it would also deprive them of their hunting, foraging and fishing grounds leaving them with nothing to live on, Baru said.
Realising his grave “mistake”, Adenan announced that the proposal had been suspended.
Even before he took up politics, the 58-year-old Baru has always been a thorn in the flesh of the Barisan Nasional and the authorities.
After graduating as a lawyer in 1986, he went through another “education” in native rights law with environmental groups, including Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) and human rights activists like Harrison Ngau, the ISA detainee, and Bruno Manser, the Swiss anti-logging activist.
He went to Japan several times to meet with other activists of all stripes and delivered speeches at international forums and the International Tropical Timber Organisations (ITTO) council, attacking indiscriminate logging activities in Lawas and Baram areas.
Japan was one of the leading importers of Sarawak timber.
For his anti-logging activities, Baru had been branded a “traitor” by the Barisan Nasional and the authorities.
He confessed that he was almost arrested.
When he contested the Lawas seat in 1991 against Awang Tengah Ali Hassan of PBB, BN effectively used the “traitor” label against him causing him to lose heavily. However, he did not lose his deposit.
His first attempt to contest the Ba’Kelalan seat in a by-election in 2004 and in a state election in 2006 all ended in failure.
But Baru was not deterred by the setbacks.
He won Ba’Kelalan in 2011 against a PBB-nominated candidate by a majority of 473 votes. This time he contested on a PKR ticket.
Since joining PKR after the deregistration of PBDS in 2004, Baru had worked relentlessly in Ba’Kelalan, especially to educate the people on religious freedom, their customary rights in their ancestral lands and the right to development.
His efforts, however, was not only confined to his constituency, but also to at least 40 other constituencies in Sarawak.
Through his efforts and the efforts of other PKR leaders, Sarawakians are slowly waking up from their political slumber.
No wonder, BN feels threatened by Baru’s growing influence.
And this perceived “threat” could have prompted Adenan to invite Baru to join the Barisan Nasional, but later rejected it outright.
For PBB, it has other reasons to bring Baru in, because it has always been its design to take over Ba’Kelalan which is the only state constituency within the Lawas parliamentary constituency that is not under its control.
The other state constituency is Bukit Sari and the incumbent is Awang Tengah, a senior PBB leader and an influential minister.
Baru’s refusal to join PBB was regarded as an “insult” to the chief minister. Partly for this reason, he is considered the “number one enemy” of the BN and must be eliminated.
The state legislative assembly is to be dissolved on April 11 but Adenan has yet to announce the candidate to challenge Baru.
From SPDP sources, it has already identified its deputy president Nelson Balang Rining as its candidate.
However, a certainly personality in PBB rejected Nelson, accusing him of failing in his duty during his two terms as Ba’Kelalan assemblyman.
Instead, the PBB leader suggested that Mutang Tagal be nominated as the BN candidate, but the problem is that the former MP has been out of politics and is not a SPDP member.
Several other names have also been mentioned as possible candidates for Ba’Kelalan.
Could the last minute decision to select the candidate be an advantage to Baru? Let’s wait and see.
by Joseph Tawie.