by Darius Louis
TO any observer of Sarawak politics, it is clear by a country mile, that the outcome of the next state elections will rest significantly on how Pakatan Harapan (PH) and Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) address the issue of restoring Sarawak rights and position within the Federation of Malaysia.
So why does it seem that PH has great reluctance to give Sarawak what it wants?
Comments by netizens are not necessarily the most accurate nor objective of indicators by which to measure public sentiments but it is interesting to note that online reactions to Sarawak and Sabah pursuing their rights under Malaysia Agreement (MA63) generally exhibit a gulf in perceptions depending on which side of the South China Sea one’s loyalties tend to lie.
Many West Malaysians appear to think Sarawak and Sabah are asking for too much and are behaving like ungrateful louts for the benefits both states have enjoyed since the federation was formed.
On the flip side of the coin, many East Malaysians think it’s time that Sarawak and Sabah receive their dues, and that Malayans should not expect them to continue to carry the burden of development for Peninsular Malaysians who appear mostly unwilling to acknowledge that the amenities and facilities they enjoy every day and take for granted came at the expense of development of Sarawak and Sabah.
East Malaysians, in general, cannot fathom how asking for what is rightfully theirs is irrational and unreasonable in any way. And let’s face it, if those Malayan commentators were sitting on our side of the fence, they would be singing a very different tune.
It’s not like the rights that Sarawak and Sabah are asking for are unknown, untrue, or something which has materialised out of thin air. To let the current state of affairs carry on without compensation and redress is an injustice. Yet, this appears to be the current stance of the PH government led by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad with little progress or assurance on MA63 made since they came into power.
Thus, the conclusion that many East Malaysians naturally come to is that PH is uninterested in righting the wrongs, manifesto promises be damned.
Who can blame East Malaysians for asking themselves whether the PH government really cares about them?
Look at the recently announced freeze of hikes for 21 toll highways in West Malaysia, which will reportedly cost the federal government RM1 billion. It is a bitter pill to tell Sarawakians to swallow when critical infrastructure projects in Sarawak are put on hold yet again due to lack of federal funds, at a time when the federal govt is purportedly tightening public purse strings to counter the excesses of the previous Barisan Nasional (BN) government. To Sarawakians, it just comes across as just the latest example of their needs being sidelined while West Malaysia reaps all the benefits of Sarawak’s resources.
Federal lawmakers and decision makers must face the fact that it is irrational to expect Sarawakians to continue to sacrifice for the good of the nation when there appears to be no sincere, reciprocating effort from West Malaysia.
When one side feels it has been shortchanged all this while, it will cling on even harder to what it has and should rightfully have, and fight tooth and nail to protect it. Hence, the strong sentiment of Sarawak nationalism which is growing stronger by the day.
PH’s continued pooh-poohing over Sarawak’s concerns will only come off as arrogance, ignorance and indifference over the suffering and rights of Sarawakians. Good luck with trying to win Sarawakians over with that condescending attitude.
Politicians have their work cut out for them, especially those in the cabinet, if they want to win the hearts and minds of East Malaysians. And whether West Malaysian politicians like it or not, the trust deficit means every word from them will undergo extra scrutiny (and/or misinterpretation).
Failing to understand why Education Minister Maszlee Malik’s ‘medan dakwah’ statement caused such consternation and anger among East Malaysians is to ignore the persecution East Malaysian Christians have felt for decades for practising and professing their religion, with the proselytising of Christian students in the interiors, and limitations of usage of the word ‘Allah’ by Bumiputera Christians being among the deepest cuts.
Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng is just the latest federal minister to find himself facing a barrage of criticism for defending the federal government by highlighting the sum of RM2.5 bilion owed by the state government to Putrajaya. It will not go down well with disgruntled Sarawakians who will no doubt be quick to point out that Sarawak has yet to be adequately compensated for or satisfactorily benefit from the billions in ringgit in resources taken from the state to fill national coffers.
Regardless of whether the Mahathir-led government thinks these criticisms are justified or not, it cannot afford to think it is business as usual when it comes to East Malaysia now that it is in power.
The May 9 elections have only revealed a taste of the folly of taking Sarawak voters for granted, and the groundswell of disatisfaction which brought it about is only likely to intensify in the lead up to the Sarawak state elections due by 2021, with both state and federal governments as well as other politically inclined parties appearing wiling to whip up nationalistic sentiments for their own means.
Old wounds still run deep and if the PH government thinks it can overlook and brush it aside with the excuse that it’s BN’s fault, it should have another think coming. Otherwise, its pride will lead it down the same path that BN found itself being forced to walk on May 9.
The deficit of trust between West and East Malaysia may be an inherited problem, but it is the PH government’s problem now and they must find a way to rebuild it. Without trust, any effort or goodwill on their part will only be viewed with suspicion and negativity.
Promises are increasingly inadequate and patience increasingly thin. The goodwill Sarawakian voters extended on May 9 can only last for so long.
Of course, it deserves to be noted that Sarawak and Sabah are not the only ones who are dissatisfied with the federal government and the way it chooses to wield its influence and power. West Malaysians have been vocal over promises that have not been kept as well as over the perceived pussyfooting of PH to tackle and curb abuses of power among its own ranks. But that’s another topic for another day. — DayakDaily