The battle for Sarawak has begun

The State Legislative Assembly complex as seen from the opposite side of the Sarawak river in Kuching. — DayakDaily.com file pic

Commentary

Sarawak has been thrown into a unique, but interesting, position after the May 9 general election (GE14). Suddenly, political leaders from both ends find themselves in unfamiliar territories. But upon scrutinising how things have been developing over the past month or so, both Sarawak and Sabah are actually in a favourable position now.

The political upheavals that have unfolded ever since the fall of the once impregnable fortress Barisan Nasional (BN) have put the new local alliance Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) in a spot of sorts. Firstly, it cannot join the victorious Pakatan Harapan (PH) as the state PH will definitely object to such a manoeuvre. Now, in order to survive under the PH-led government, GPS cannot hang on to its decades-long tie with the BN, which is widely perceived as a very corrupt coalition.

Hence, the only viable option left is to pull out of the BN and reposition itself as GPS, an independent body.

Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg laid the foundation for the formation of GPS by paying a widely publicised courtesy call on Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in Putrajaya, to, among others, let the prime minister know that GPS will be Putrajaya-friendly. However, some quarters viewed that visit as one that lacks principle and reflects weakness. Some even branded GPS a “traitor” for exiting BN in its hour of need.


On June 12, Abang Johari announced the coming into being of GPS, but until today, many are still pondering what the “maintaining a good working relationship as an opposition” rationale means and how the mechanism is supposed to work.

Even GPS Members of Parliament (MPs) are themselves uncertain, and this can be gauged from DayakDaily’s recent interview with Batang Sadong MP Nancy Shukri. The former federal minister defined the so-called “good working relationship” to mean “PH-friendly”.

Nancy opines that being “PH-friendly”, Sarawak will not oppose for the sake of opposing but will work with the federal government to develop the state. However, she was quick to add that if Sarawak rights were stepped upon, GPS’ MPs will not keep mum.

But as far as Sarawakians are concerned, “friendly” means “supporting”, and not “opposing”. For example, before GE14, Parti Tenaga Rakyat Sarawak (Teras) and United People’s Party (UPP) claimed themselves as “Barisan Nasional-friendly”, and in doing so, both parties abide by the policies and decisions of the now defunct Sarawak BN.

But at the national stage, only time can tell how the politicians define “PH-friendly” and how everything will be play out. After all, not only Sarawak, but Malaysia as a whole, has just crossed into uncharted territory, politically.

Regardless of what “PH-friendly” denotes, it will be interesting to see what will happen when Parliament convenes next month. All eyes will be on the sitting arrangement of the MPs. Will MPs from GPS be seated next to their counterparts from PH or BN or will they be seated in a ‘special’ area? Another interesting thing to watch is how Sarawakian MPs react or vote when it comes time to debate issues and bills.

Anyway, come to think of it, Sarawak, and even Sabah, is not in a bad position at all. If things go as predicted by Nancy, that Sarawak and several Sabahan MPs will be seated in a section separate from PH and BN, this development can be seen as the start of a new era. It can be interpreted that both states are now considered as “East Malaysian territories”, meaning they are no longer states within the federation but are equal partners as enshrined in the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63).

Presently, their positions may not be strong and their voices weak due to the limited number of MPs, but they are moving in the right direction as ‘semi-independent’ territories.

It is expected that GPS, which is slowly but surely finding its footing in the new political landscape, will continue to champion an issue that Sarawakians hold dearly to — the fundamental rights of Sarawak as enshrined in the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63).

But on the opposite side of the political fence, the going for the state PH may be tougher than before. This is because Putrajaya has always sidelined Sarawak in terms of decision-making, probably because the state only has 56 seats in the 222-seat Parliament. Now that Putrajaya is in the hands of PH, they better hope things will improve.

In addition, the national PH is not making things easier for its state counterpart. Even though the full cabinet has not been unveiled yet, the existing small cabinet already tells much of the story. No Sarawakians are in the line-up announced so far, but state PH leaders have been quick to point out that the full list is still under wraps.

The lack of Sarawak representation as of now is not surprising because under the previous Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad administration, Sarawakians and Sabahans were used for window dressing only. It is foreseen that when the full list is announced, the most Sarawak can hope for is two full ministers under Mahathir 2.0. If that happens, state PH will have a hard time explaining this to their electorate.

State PH’s new fight started soon after Petronas filed an application with the federal court to make a declaration on the Petroleum Development Act 1974 (PDA). Should the Mahathir administration ignore their voices and continue to place emphasis on developing the peninsula at the expense of East Malaysia, then life will get tougher for the state PH lawmakers. The PDA has put state PH leaders in a fix, and they cannot avoid or escape from it. It is obvious that Putrajaya will never allow Sarawak to claim full ownership of its oil and gas resources.

So what Sarawak PH has been doing in respect of the PDA matter is diverting public attention by opening cans of worms, such as complaining about ineffective project management, abuse of public funds and alleging project procurements have been overpriced.

In terms of membership strength, while GPS is still trying to reposition itself to remain relevant, Sarawak PH has been hitting the rural outback to recruit more members. With urban areas safely in their hands, the rural area is the new ground for them to conquer.

The next state election is still three years away, and GPS’s main ammunition to remain in power will be the MA63 issues and to denounce all laws that have reduced Sarawak, and for that matter Sabah, into mere states within the federation.

For Sarawak PH, it is expected to dig up as many corrupt practises as possible in the state since they can now lay their hands on private and confidential documents via the federal government.

Indeed, the battle for Sarawak has begun. — DayakDaily