KUCHING: The much hyped and just concluded Sarawak for Sarawakians debate was a shambolic but fascinating affair.
Although an open invitation was issued to all political parties, in the end, only three debaters turned up for the event.
Seats for parties such as PBB, PRS, SPDP, DAP and SWP were left empty.
Much was also made of the Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem’s absence.
A petition with 300,000 signatures calling for more state autonomy intended for Adenan would instead be handed over to authorities in Kuala Lumpur, said debate organiser Peter John Jaban.
PKR state chief Baru Bian was the only elected representative to take part, facing off against Patrick Uren, a lawyer representing the once popular PBDS, and Michael Tiang, an aspiring first-time candidate from SUPP.
All focused on the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63) in a debate that seemed to dwell on the past in order to look forward.
Held at the appropriately named Kenyalang Park Theatre here on Sunday – on the eve of the State Legislative Assembly dissolution – debaters focused on the rising Sarawak and Sabah rights awareness.
Baru said PKR would spearhead autonomy, “restoring the spirit of Malaysia, in which Sarawak and Sabah were equal partners.”
He claimed that before Adenan made the oil and gas royalty his own issue, PKR had already laid out in election manifestos urging for a 5% to 20% hike.
“Change the state government and then the federal government to ensure consistent policies,” Baru said, adding the state Barisan Government had not made good use of its political influence since forming the country.
SUPP’s Tiang called the MA63 Sarawak a “bible” when it came to rights and urged voters to back Adenan’s Government in order for the Chief Minister to have a stronger hand when negotiating with the Federal Government.
“Adenan did not choose the easy path. We know his age, we know he is not young, but he is taking this path to safeguard Sarawak.
“When we want to elect a party to represent us, we have to look at track record – Sarawak Barisan under Adenan has accomplished a lot,” Tiang said.
PBDS was the clear underdog of the debate. While PKR has three assemblymen and SUPP has two, PBDS is currently a mosquito party.
Its relevance is derived from its heyday when it was part of the state Government decades ago.
Patrick hit out at Barisan for failing to develop Sarawak and for letting Sarawak and Sabah fall behind in equality and status within the country.
He was sceptical of Adenan, pointing out the new Chief Minister has not been able to quell SUPP-UPP and SPDP-Teras tussles.
In the debate, which lasted about two hours, other issues talked about included calls for referendums, declarations of emergency, official languages and religions, and Sarawak and Sabah’s inabilities to prevent further erosion of rights.
Moderator Karen Shepherd ended the debate by calling on Sarawakians to work as one and for politics to focus on issues.