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Chronology for Dayaks in Malaysia

Publisher Minorities at Risk Project
Publication Date 2004
Cite as Minorities at Risk Project, Chronology for Dayaks in Malaysia, 2004, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/469f38b91c.html [accessed 20 April 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Date(s) Item
Apr 1990 Two Dutch socialist European parliamentarians went on a fact finding mission to Sarawak to assess the extent of deforestation and the human rights situation of the indigenous peoples. The Euro-MPs' mission was to bring EC and international attention to how indiscriminate logging has led to the violation of the human rights of the Dayaks and other indigenous populations.
Oct 1990 The ruling Malaysian National Front (NF) won 127 of the 180 parliamentary seats in the country's 8th general election, while the opposition alliance got 49 and the independents four. The Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak (PBDS), that represents the tribespeople known together as Dayaks, managed to maintain its previous 4 seats. While the PBDS is a member of the national NF, at the state level, it is in opposition to the 3-party coalition government, called NF3. The coalition partners are: Parti Pasaka Bumiputra Bersatu (PPBB, 9 seats at the national parliament) led by the Chief Minister Taib Mahmud, Sarawak United Peoples' Party (SUPP, 5 seats) and Sarawak National Party (SNAP, 3 seats). All these three are also members of the national NF. One national park in Sarawak state has turned into a battleground between villagers and loggers. Over the last two months villagers in a remote area on the western coast of Borneo Island have exchanged blows with loggers who felled trees in their ancestral homes in the forested hills. The clash evoked memories of protests in 1987 by spear-wielding Sarawak tribesmen trying to stop loggers from entering their jungle homelands. Many tribesmen were later arrested, provoking an outcry from both foreign and domestic environmental groups.
Sep 1991 In state elections held this month the government of Sarawak led by Taib Mahmud returned to power. The ruling NF3 won 49 of the 56 seats in the expanded state assembly while the opposition PBDS, representing the Dayaks, won the remaining seven seats. The other opposition party Persatuan Rakyat Malaysia Sarawak (Permas) lost all 4 seats it held before the election. All opposition leaders lost, except the Deputy President of PBDS, Daniel Kading. The federal-level opposition Democratic Action Party (DAP) again failed to gain a foothold in Sarawak's politics, as all its candidates lost. "The results show that the people care for development. It is clear that my government does not come from one race only... The PBDS must abandon its racialistic politics which can only be to the detriment of the state", said the Chief Minister and the leader of the NF3 (Reuters, 9/29/93). The result was a defeat for the tribal party, that champions Dayak nationalism in the rain forests of Borneo Island. The PBDS had campaigned for more respect for native land laws and greater rights for Dayaks. They also accused the government of excessive logging. PBDS leader Leo Moggie is a member of the ruling coalition at the federal level holding the cabinet post of Public Works. The Vice President of the PBDS James Masing said that Moggie's decision not to contest at state level, and the fact that while demanding that a Dayak should be chosen as Chief Minister, the party did not name anyone as potential chief minister could have affected the PBDS' showing. "We entered the fight without a known leader. You enter into a battle you must have a general", Masing said (Reuters, 9/28/93). During the election campaign Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad had sent federal ministers to campaign for NF3. He seemed anxious to prevent the belligerence of the opposition PBS (it wants more state rights) that rules neighboring Sabah from spreading into Sarawak. The Sarawak election was the most expensive in Malaysian history, with a spending budget of about US $3 million, more than the cost of elections in the 11 states in peninsular Malaysia combined. This was because about two-thirds of Sarawak, the largest of the Malaysian states, is still inaccessible by roads or rivers.
Oct 1991 The PBDS has asked to join the state's triumphant multiracial coalition, NF3 "without pre-conditions". The Chief Minister Taib said his coalition was willing to accept the PBDS provided the tribal party showed it was sincere (Reuters, 9/30/91). Moved by what they saw as the injustice suffered by Sarawak's indigenous people, nine international environmental activists from groups like the US "Earth First", Germany's "Robin Hood" and the Swiss "Society for Threatened People" hung themselves with climbing ropes from logging cranes in July to draw attention to the destruction of rain forests in Sarawak. Some members of the Penan tribal group argued that this kind of protest sidetracks attention from the real issue of appropriate development for the tribals. It also opens them to official criticism of being foreign-backed at a time when Malaysia faces a boycott of tropical forest products in the west. Last year the Penans themselves set up human blockades across logging trails to draw the government's attention to the loss of their livelihood. Hundreds were then arrested. Sarawak although rich in oil, timber and natural gas is still the least-developed part of the Malaysian federation. The Sarawak lumber industry has a high level of local ownership and labor intensive technology. The industry employs more than 55,000 people -- among them Penans and the largest ethnic group here, the Ibans, once known as Sea Dayaks, who account for a third of all Sarawakians. The Bidayuh or Land Dayaks are somewhat quieter than the Iban in character. Sarawak is home to more than 20 ethnic groups. As well as native Malays, Chinese and Indians, there are Iban, Bidayuh, Kenyah, Kayan, Kelabit, Penan, and Melanau groups.
Apr 1992 The US Senate calls for protection of the Malaysian forest: The Malaysian government should reduce by at least two-thirds the rate of timber cutting and uphold customary land rights of the Penan indigenous peoples there, says a resolution introduced on April 2nd in the US Senate (Inter Press Service, 4/2/92). The resolution by Senator Al Gore also calls for Japan to investigate the activities of certain Japanese companies in Sarawak, which he says promote the destruction of the rain forest there, as well as the culture of the Sarawak people. Japan is the single largest consumer of tropical timber, one-third of which comes from Sarawak, according to Gore's office.
May 1992 The PBDS still harbors hopes of being accepted into the NF3 coalition, even though its "hand of friendship" has been rejected, according to the party president Leo Moggie (The Straits Times, 5/26/93). When the PBDS applied to join the NF3, the Chief Minister gave the PBDS six months to "show its sincerity" by going to the ground and telling its supporters to change their belligerent attitude towards the state government. Apparently, after the 6-month "cooling-off" period expired in March, the state NF3 was still not convinced that PBDS leaders had kept their part of the bargain. On May 10, the NF3 Coordinating Committee rejected the PBDS's application. The PBDS was formed in 1983 by a rebel group that broke away from SNAP. In the 1983 state elections, PBDS won seven seats and were accepted into the state NF. However, in 1987, PBDS left the state NF to join the opposition.
Apr 1993 The PBDS has amended its constitution to open its doors to non-Dayaks and it publicly declared its support for the Chief Minister to bring development to Sarawak.
May 1 - 30, 1993 Political differences among top leaders are obstructing Sarawak's path towards economic development, according to PBDS, and the party hopes to end or at least minimize this by rejoining the ruling coalition. Disclosing this in a telephone interview from Kuching, PBDS senior vice-president Dr. James Masing said once the top leaders stopped quarrelling, the rank and file would follow suit. The PBDS applied again to join the NF. Dr. Masing said, "So far the PBB and Supp have agreed in principle to let the PBDS rejoin the NF. Snap is still silent" (The Strait Times, 5/7/93). The PBB, whose support comes from the Malays, Melanaus and Dayaks, leads the NF3, while the Supp is a Chinese based party. The PBDS is a breakaway faction of Snap and both parties compete fiercely for the votes of the Dayaks. The Dayaks form about 45% of Sarawak's multi-racial population of nearly two million, while the Chinese comprise 30% and Malays and Melanaus make up the rest (The Strait Times, 6/1/93). Faced with the prospect of political oblivion, the PBDS made several attempts to rejoin the NF, but has been rebuffed by the NF3 which continues to harbor suspicions that not all in the PBDS rank and file fully accept the NF concept of power sharing.
Aug 1993 National day celebrations have been arranged at Kuching, Sarawak's capital. It is the first time the festivities are being held outside Kuala Lumpur since the federation was founded in 1963. Some believe it is a step forward in Malaysia's democratic evolution. Others see it as a sign of the continuing tension between the federal government and the states. "This will show Sarawakians maturity as a state and as members of the Malaysian nation", said an official of the coordinating committee for the celebrations (IPS, 8/31/93). Holding the celebrations in Sarawak is viewed in area as an effort to counter alleged anti-federal feelings in Sarawak and in Sabah. Resentment at the growing gap between the more industrialized peninsula and less prosperous east Malaysian states has added to the assertion of Dayak ethnic rights in Sarawak and Kadazan nationalism in Sabah.
Oct 1994 An 800,000 ha forest reserve and wildlife sanctuary has been formed by the Malaysian and Indonesian governments. Straddling Sarawak's southern border with the vast Indonesian Province of Kalimantan, it is the largest wet tropical forest reserve and the first of its kind in the world to be formed by the two neighbors, Malaysian officials say. On the Sarawak side, the reserve covers 187,000 ha of mostly virgin, apparently uninhabited rain forest (Far Eastern Economic Review, 12/8/94).
Jan 1995 The Deputy Chief Minister of Sarawak, Datuk Jabu, says that the Dayaks must stop drinking regularly as this could affect development in their areas. Several Dayak leaders also indicated that drinking, especially among the youth, is a serious problem (The Straits Times, Singapore, 01/01/95).
Feb 1995 Around 10,000 jobs are expected to be created in Sarawak under a state government plan to create an industrial corridor in the region. By 1998, the government estimates 5000 technicians alone will be needed. The state plans to develop a bio-tech park to exploit Sarawak's tree species (New Strait Times, 02/05/95).
Feb 23, 1995 Sarawak's four parties that belong to the Barisan Nasional have agreed to cooperate to ensure a clean sweep in the upcoming federal elections in April. The parties include the PBDS (New Straits Times, 02/23/95).
Mar 1995 A meeting of more than 110 Dayak leaders has arrived at a standardized guideline on the usage and spelling of the Iban language. The Iban are the largest ethnic group in Sarawak (New Straits Times, 03/13/95).
Apr 1995 The Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) that supports Kadazan claims is attempting to attract the Dayak and Iban communities. The party plans to contest 10 of 24 seats in Sarawak in the April election (The Straits Times, Singapore, 04/06/95).
Apr 27, 1995 The governing National Front, led by Prime Minister Mahathir, secured a landslide victory in national elections. The NF, which a coalition of 14 parties from the major ethnic and religious communities, won 162 out of 192 parliamentary seats and 338/394 state seats. The opposition DAP suffered a major defeat, winning only 9 federal seats and 11/394 seats in state polls (International Herald Tribune, 04/27/95; Reuters Textline: Sydney Morning Herald, 04/27/95).
Nov 1995 The Ibans are being asked to discard some of their "outdated" and "debilitating" practices by the president of the PBDS, Datuk Leo Moggie. He was referring to the use of alcohol and farming practices such as shifting cultivation. Moggie stated that in 1987 the level of poverty among the Dayak groups was as follows: 46.5% of the Ibans; 32.4% of the Bidayuhs and 27.2% of the Orang Uli. The state average was 24.8% (New Straits Times, 11/06/95).
Aug 1996 The government announced the creation of a state-run trust fund aimed at distributing the nation's wealth to all people of all of Malaysia's ethnic groups, breaking with the trend of government-run trusts aiding only people in groups indigenous to Malaysia. The $1.2 billion fund attempts to promote savings and provide financing for infrastructure and privatized projects. Prime Minister Mohamad says that this trust does not indicate that the government plans to eliminate the New Economic Policy. He maintains that the NEP is still essential to correct existing disparities (The Reuters Asia-Pacific Business Report, 08/28/96; Asiaweek, 9/27/96).
Aug 17, 1996 In a speech on how Malaysia has achieved racial harmony, Prime Minister Mohamed cited the wide support by all people in Malaysia for the program of affirmative action in favor of bumiputras (indigenous people, but namely Malays in practice). He argued that people of all ethnic backgrounds in the country accept preference program as the driving force behind political stability, as it reduced racial disparities. (The Straits Times [Singapore])
Dec 15, 1996 Malaysia's government forced a group of NGOs--representing indigenous peoples, foreign and estate workers, and women in the country--to postpone a scheduled forum on alleged abuse of police power in Malaysia. Government officials threatened to invoke the Internal Security Act and detain the organizers of the forum if they held it as planned. (AFP)
Feb 4 - 12, 1997 Officials in the state of Sarawak closed its border to Indonesia because of racial violence in neighboring West Kalimantan involving indigenous Indonesian Dayaks and Chinese migrants from the island of Madura. (AFP, February 3, February 4, February 8, February 13)
May 1997 The Deputy Chief Minister of Sabah demanded the clarification of the legal definition of "bumiputra" after Ibans were denied consideration for a bumiputra quota in the state of Malacca. The Malayasian Bar Council issued a statement critical of officials in Malacca, and demanding that all states use a common definition of "bumiputra" and that all bumpitura be treated the same. (The Straits Times [Singapore], May 23, May 27)
May 23, 1997 In an interview with the Financial Times (London), Prime Minister Mahathir indicated that, given the situation of full employment and resultant worker shortages in Malaysia, the government would soon relax some of the economic policies which favor indigenous people in Malaysia. He noted that rules requiring 30 percent bumiputra-ownership of a company's equity have already been dropped in the IT industry in an effort to ensure the sector's continued growth in the country.
Jun 8, 1997 An independent survey discovered that Malaysia, along with China and Singapore, has the most heavily censored media in Asia. The Philippines and Hong Kong have the freest media in the region. (AFP)
Jul 1, 1997 - Aug 31, 1998 Following the collapse of Thailand's economy, the Malaysian ringgit fell 60 percent to the US dollar during this period, and $(US)119 million dollars were lost on the stock market as the country's GDP experienced a sudden and dramatic fall. More than 430 companies in Malaysia went bankrupt during this period. Mahathir pushed an austerity plan for the country, indefinitely deferring infrastructure programs and encouraging Malaysians to buy locally produced goods. (AFP, January 27, August 30, 1998; AAP Newsfeed, April 22, 1998)
Jul 9, 1997 A deputy prime minister called for the rejection of a long-standing policy which requires lawyers from peninsular Malaysia to obtain permits before pursuing work in the states of Sarawak and Sabah. The suggestion was met with strong opposition from leaders of indigenous groups, and no concrete plans were made to pursue the recommendation and repeal the permit provisions. (New Straits Times, August 8, 1997)
Aug 1997 Leaders of the Barisan Nasional (BN) or National Front coalition decided to not turn BN into a single party but to have it remain as a coalition of state-based parties in order to ensure the continued recognition of minority voices and differences among ethnic groups. (Bernama—Malaysian National News Agency)
Aug 9, 1997 The National Unity and Social Development Ministry announced plans to develop a heritage policy for indigenous peoples in Malaysia. The policy would aim to preserve not just indigenous cultures but industries and resource bases, as well. (New Straits Times)
Jan 25, 1998 PBDS President Moggie encouraged the Dayak community to become more self-sufficient and to grow its own food rather than relying upon imports. The statement was part of a national campaign to try to improve the country's floundering economy. (Malaysia General News)
Apr 20, 1998 A PBB leader noted that the reach of the nationwide party UMNO would eventually reach Sarawak and absorb or replace state parties. He argued, though, that this would not happen while fundamental differences persisted between the economic structure in Kuala Lampur and that of Sarawak and could only happen if the components of the BN coalition all agreed to an UMNO presence. (Bernama, April 20; Malaysia General News, May 3)
Sep 3, 1998 Concerns about the political stablity of Malaysia are compounded after Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim was ousted from his office amid accusations of sexual impropriety, accepting bribes, and compromising national security. People of all ethnic backgrounds rally behind Anwar, who denies the charges, and launches a challenge to the prime minister. (AFP, September 5)
Sep 20, 1998 Malaysian police arrest Anwar, which unleashes a series of mass political protests (of mostly Malay people) in Kuala Lampur despite warnings by police against such rallies. Human rights activists and lawyers expressed grave concerns about the bases of Anwar's arrest and his treatment while in detention, and Anwar's wife carried on his campaign for political reform. (AFP, September 23, October 10)
Oct 18, 1998 Iban leaders advocated strong unity among groups in Sarawak, including the PBDS, SUPP, and the PBB. Iban leaders encouraged cooperation and a single, shared focus of economic development for the state. (Borneo Bulletin)
Mar 6, 1999 PDLP leader Moggie reported that the small Iban community in the state of Sabah was benefiting greatly from government development programs and infrastructure, despite the fact that there is no Iban representative in the state's legislative assembly. Moggie credited the coalition-structure of the BN with ensuring the well being of all people in Malaysia. (Bernama)
Mar 24, 1999 Sarawak officials denied entry to their state to Madurese refugees fleeing ethnic strife in Indonesia between the Madurere and ethnic Dayaks. (AFP)
May 21, 1999 Deputy Chief Minister Jabu encouraged the different components of the Dayak community to remain united and to work with those of other ethnic origins in Malayasia, as well. Jabu argued that this would be the only way that Sarawak could continue to develop and modernize. (Bernama)
May 31 - Jun 1, 1999 The annual cultural two-day festival of Dayak culture in Sarawak (Gawai Dayak) was celebrated on a smaller scale than in the past, as Dayak leaders tried to change the image of the community from a traditional peoples to that of a modern state. (Bernama, April 30)

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