By Lian Cheng
Will there be a day where Sarawak totally rids itself of race-based politics?
On Jan 6, 2020, Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg gave a special interview to the media to commemorate his third anniversary which fell on Jan 13.
It was a two-hour long interview where Abang Johari shared his vision in developing Sarawak after taking over the helm as chief minister three years ago. He touched on development plans, policies as well as some of his 81 initiatives and the challenges he has been facing.
He did not spend much time on politics. However, while asked by the media about his view of Sarawak’s present political ecosystem, Abang Johari let it slip that Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) which is made up of four parties (Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu or PBB, Sarawak United Peoples’ Party or SUPP, Parti Rakyat Sarawak or PRS and Progressive Democrative Party or PDP) might eventually become one.
The following is the excerpt from the interview:
Question: Are you sending a signal to other GPS partners? (The question asked by media following Abang Johari’s comment on political ecosystem.)
CM: Our partners are doing the same thing. Because eventually we will be under one. Eventually. With GPS.
Question: Are you saying it (GPS) will be one party eventually?
CM: May take time, I don’t know. I can’t predict. As it is, this is the formula we have.
Question: Is there a possibility that Sarawak is going towards that direction?
CM: I don’t know.
Despite the fact that Sarawak enjoys religious and racial harmony, the “Land of the Hornbills” has yet to totally eradicate politics based on ethnicity.
This can be seen from the choice of candidates by different political parties during election time when decisions made depend much on the ethnic racial composition of each constituency.
It is the norm, for example, that an Iban candidate will be placed in Iban-majority areas while in a predominantly Malay area, a Malay candidate will be fielded. Such practice has been the tradition and until now, little effort has been made to break away.
So far, in the recent history of Sarawak politics, there was only one attempt and a successful one, which happened with the Selangau seat.
In the 14th General Election, Sarawak Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) chief Baru Bian, a Lun Bawang, stood in Selangau, a constituency consisting of 95 per cent Iban voters.
Baru managed to beat Parti Rakyat Sarawak candidate Rita Insol, an Iban, with a slim majority of 486 votes, by garnering 11,228 votes, while Rita received 10,742 votes.
Baru, during that time was the assemblyman of Ba Kelalan, a state constituency some 720 km away in the northern tip of Sarawak, while Selangau lies in central Sarawak.
Of course, there were many factors at play, including PRS sacking its former deputy president Datuk Joseph Entulu who was also former Selangau MP, which had led to such an outcome.
The case at best, is an isolated one, which cannot be held as the norm.
However, the outcome of Selangau does cast hope for liberal-minded political observers that perhaps one day, Sarawak may be totally rid of politics of ethnicity, where politicians are judged by their merits rather than which ethnic groups they are from.
Due to numerous intermarriages and the general good nature of Sarawakians, race politics for the moment has not reared its ugly head.
All Sarawakian politicians, regardless of their political inclination, must also be given credit for being sensible enough not to succumb to making racial statements to gain popularity. However, Sarawak must not stop there. If Sarawak can maintain its religious and racial harmony against the mainstream Malaysian racial and religious tide, Sarawak must aim to do better by first of all, staying away from politics of ethnicity and in place of it, practice politics of meritocracy.
Following Abang Johari’s Jan 6 ‘slip of the tongue’, there is every possibility that Sarawak, which is separated from Peninsular Malaysia by the South China Sea, may have a good chance, in view of the fact that the majority of its political leaders are moderate in their outlook. All it takes is, perhaps, political will and a lot of courage, farsightedness and trust among leaders of different ethnic groups.
Abang Johari was non-committal on this in his Jan 6 special interview. However, it is good to know that he secretly harbours such a vision. It is time for ethnic politics to slowly give way to meritocracy.
PBB has been generally known to champion the rights of the Malays and the Dayaks; SUPP focusing on safeguarding Chinese interests while PRS and PDP are both pre-dominantly Dayak parties, emphasising on fighting for Dayak wellbeing. This kind of politics are remnants of the British colonial divide and rule policy, and should not be encouraged further. New Sarawakian parties formed should also cross that divide and move forward with politics of meritocracy.
Apart from charting its own development pace and direction, politically, it is also time for Sarawak to embark on another of its own journey – politics of meritocracy.
Sarawak will make itself proud yet again if a Dayak can stand in a Malay-majority area; a Malay in a predominantly Chinese area and a Chinese in a Dayak area. —DayakDaily