To be or not to be in the federal cabinet

By Lian Cheng

Sarawakians are now watching Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS)’s next moves very closely. They are watching whether GPS is so hard up for some cabinet appointments or whether the ruling coalition, being smart, continues to stay out of the federal government.

For the last five decades, Sarawak was always part of the federal administration centred in Putrajaya. When GPS government decided to leave Barisan Nasional after May 5, 2018, and became an opposition to Pakatan Hardpan-led federal government, it was a bold step and Sarawak knew that it was venturing into uncharted waters.

From there, Sarawak slowly found itself. We began to have a clear identity for ourselves and a clear direction for the State as a whole. We knew what we wanted and how to go forward to achieve our vision. A series of initiatives and policies started to emerge, to pave the way for a new Sarawak.

Politically, Sarawak steered clear from highly racial, highly polarising Malaya politics. Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg has, on more than one occasion, expressed his distaste for Malayan politics and declared that it had nothing to do with Sarawak.

Well, this was until the internal tension within ruling Pakatan Harapan failed to be contained, blowing up in the face of all Malaysians between Feb 24 to Mar 1. Sarawak was inevitably sucked into the political impasse where it was forced to take a stand to put an end to the unprecedented political madness.

GPS top leader Abang Johari said the 18 MPs in parliament had to take a side, for the sake of national stability.

This is quite true. On Feb 25, it was reported that RM43 billion was wiped out from the Malaysia stock market. As part of Malaysia, Sarawak could not let Malaysia bleed to death.

Following Sarawak’s decision to side with Bersatu president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin as next prime minister, a political solution was reached.

The question now is, should GPS be part of the federal government?

To be or not to be in the federal cabinet, GPS top leaders will have to weigh the pros and cons with utmost caution and wisdom.

Being the political entity that sealed the fate for Muhyiddin to gain control over Putrajaya, Sarawak is indeed in the position to demand crucial cabinet positions. However, is that all GPS wants?

Of course, if GPS were to be in the federal cabinet, it would be easier for the State ruling coalition to fight for more funds for Sarawak’s development. The needs for rural development is great and development fund would be something hard for Sarawak to refuse.

With federal ministers in the government, it is also the belief that Sarawak will have a bigger say in any national decision affecting Sarawak, not to mention the fact that it will provide a greater platform for Sarawak to fight to regain her rights within the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63). Without a doubt, Sarawak will definitely benefit from being part of the federal cabinet.

Like two sides of a coin, while there are pros, there are also cons. To be appointed in the cabinet would also mean involvement in Malayan politics.

During the 22 months when Pakatan Harapan was in power, a strong sentiment has been mounting among Sarawakians that Sarawak as an entity with administrative and political independence, should stay away from Malayan politics. This has been the stand of Abang Johari and his stand has been accepted and embraced by many Sarawakians.

After holding firm to such a stand for so long, can GPS just turn and go back to be part of federal government or part of Malayan politics again? Will Sarawakians readily accept the decision?

For GPS to take up ministerial appointment, the reasons must be good enough or there will be repercussions where some may feel disappointed while others, betrayed. What is worse is that, if Sarawakian MPs like before, were only being appointed for the sake of window dressing?

For the past 22 months, because GPS has stayed away from federal politics, it was able to maintain a neutral stand when the recent political crisis exploded. If GPS were to be in federal government and be entangled in Malayan politics, could it still maintain neutrality in the event that the Malayan parties decided to start another round of political wrangling?

A coup had occurred and there was no reason that a second one would not, especially when the strength of ruling Perikatan Nasional versus opposition Pakatan Harapan in general was pitched at 50-50.

One thing for certain, amid the power struggle among Malayan parties, GPS has put itself in a good position by being neutral.

Since that has been the case, perhaps rather than being part of the federal government, GPS should capitalise on it by negotiating for the complete return of rights, especially that of its oil and gas rights.

Malayan politics should be left for the Malayans. As for Sarawak, perhaps it should continue with the policy of “staying away” and channel all energy into developing the state instead of wasting it on meaningless power struggle which the Malayan parties seem to be addicted to.

But what if Sarawak were to be offered a deputy prime minister II position? Well, then Abang Johari will have a bigger headache! —DayakDaily