by Lian Cheng
FOLLOWING Pakatan Harapan’s (PH) takeover of the federal government and with the Sarawak ruling coalition, Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS), choosing to remain in the opposition, Sarawak politics entered a new chapter.
Right after the May 9 polls, GPS displayed both shock and reluctance. There were signs they had lost their positioning after having sat comfortably with the Barisan Nasional (BN) for the last five decades. Between May 9 and mid-June, GPS was very quiet and subdued, and official functions were few. Its ministers and elected representatives seemed to keep a low profile and adopted a “wait and see” approach.
After the lull, the local alliance suddenly sprang to live and was aggressive. Reporters’ logbooks started to fill up with official functions once again, and GPS seemed to be in the driver’s seat once more. It has since been moving at a rapid pace, displaying noticeable determination and commitment that they are still very much in charge of the state.
Meanwhile, Sarawak PH also seemed to be struggling after May 9. Like GPS, it also sought to adjust to the local political landscape, but they look like they have found their rhythm.
By the time state PH chief Chong Chieng Jen was appointed Deputy Minister of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs, and state Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) chief Baru Bian as Minister of Works, all doubts were cleared. Sarawak PH has moved forward in a firm and down-to-earth manner, as if showing Sarawakians that despite their lack of experience, their leaders could govern, and govern well.
Sarawak is in a very unique situation now. Previously some politicians adopted a ‘throw punches first and think later’ approach because for them “there was nothing to lose”. With the new political landscape, politicians from both sides now use their brain cells first before opening their mouths.
With PH now the boss at the federal level and GPS leading Sarawak, it really pays to stop and think before speaking as the wrong choice of words may backfire. This applies to those on both sides of the political fence. In a way, this can be considered a positive development because what politicians say carry a lot of weight; hence, it is best for them to stay clear of making sweeping, sensitive or unfair statements. In fact, that is what the rakyat expects of them.
During the ongoing the Sarawak Legislative Assembly sitting, which will resume tomorrow, both sides generally are playing their roles well, except for that brief spat on Friday where the normally cool Speaker, Datuk Amar Mohd Asfia Awang Nassar, suddenly put on his gloves and sparred with Chong. This was after Chong touched on the Court of Appeal’s decision on the case involving Pujut assemblyman Dr Ting Tiong Choon. Asfia, Second Finance Minister Dato Sri Wong Soon Koh and two others were the appellants.
There is now check-and-balance in Sarawak, with GPS as the ruling coalition and Sarawak PH playing the role of a formidable opposition. GPS can monitor PH’s projects in Sarawak while Sarawak PH can monitor GPS’s implementation of local projects. This is true democracy and a new dawn for Sarawak.
In addition, the latest political developments have strengthened freedom of speech. This has led to the rise of a new power — civil society. Ever since May 9, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have been very forthcoming with their views on a plethora of issues, including political and social ones. Their leaders are more vocal, confident, and shall we say, daring.
Even lawyers who were formerly assemblymen, namely Dominique Ng (Padungan) and Voon Lee Shan (Batu Lintang), have appeared in public championing oil and gas rights issues on behalf of the state.
The Advocates Association of Sarawak, Solidarity Anak Sarawak (SAS), Society for Rights of Indigenous People of Sarawak (SCRIPS), Sarawak for Sarawakians, and Rise of Sarawakian are now speaking up on hot issues such as Sarawak’s rights over its oil and gas resources and land issues. They are doing it through various platforms, such as by holding demonstrations, talks, seminars, or via press releases.
It is pleasant to see Sarawkian politicians from both sides of the political fence and NGO leaders behaving in a gentlemanly manner on issues close to their hearts.
We may be a relatively young democracy, but we can be proud when compared to some older democracies where their lawmakers have no qualms throwing chairs, climbing over benches and tables to punch or kick their opponents in the august House. As for us, we may be young, but we know how to respect those with differing views. And when we see demonstrations in foreign countries ending up in stampedes, tear gas, water cannons, warning shots and other hostilities, we can be proud of our NGO leaders. Their speeches are mostly fair and moderate and the demonstrations they have organised are peaceful. In fact, all of these demonstrations have ended up with the protestors, bystanders and enforcement personnel smiling and even thanking each other when they parted ways.
May all Sarawakian leaders continue to adopt such a Sarawakian approach: a gentle and civilised way to solve problems to make Sarawak better.
Let us show to the world that we may be a young democracy but we can do it our way — the Sarawakian way. — DayakDaily