POLITICAL rhetoric in Sarawak has lately been dominated by the issue of state rights and autonomy, even more so since the change of government at federal level last May.
In the aftermath of GE14, the ruling state coalition quit Barisan Nasional and rebranded itself as Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS), an independent coalition of Sarawak parties unreservedly championing state-centric policies and interests under its rallying cry of "Sarawak First".
For GPS, this largely means proclaiming that only Sarawakian parties such as themselves can look after the state and its interests, mixed in with warnings that peninsula-based parties would encroach upon or further erode state rights.
Smaller local parties have also picked up on the theme, offering themselves as an alternative to both GPS and Pakatan Harapan.
Of course, much of this is aimed at consolidating voter support for the next state election due in mid-2021. It's plain that the state polls will be fought along the lines of championing state rights as GPS and other parties tap into longstanding grievances on the erosion of those rights over the years and the Federal Government's failure to recognise or treat Sarawak as an equal partner in Malaysia.
With so many claims and admonitions coming from political parties competing for support, the concern is that little effort or interest will be made to examine them for the facts, especially if they align with one's political allegiance or preconceptions.
As a result, we may be emotionally swayed by arguments that appeal to our grievances, when we should be demanding greater engagement and accountability from politicians in policy-making and problem-solving.
As Ann Teo from civil society organisation Rise of Sarawak Efforts observed, most, if not all, Sarawakians want to see devolution of powers and a return of state rights which had been inadvertently given up.
But she said this needed to be balanced with accountability by state leaders, supported by empowered citizens able to exercise their civil and political rights freely and without fear of reprisals from the state.
"There should also be more room for the argument to bring back local government elections, where councillors are chosen by the people of the districts or divisions concerned. This will certainly balance out the powers that will be devolved to the state," she added.
In line with this, Teo hoped to see greater civic and political literacy among Sarawakians.
People should be empowered by knowledge, she said, to engage their elected representatives, whichever party they belong to, relevant government agencies and policy-makers to solve problems, advance a particular cause or make them more accountable.
Therein lies a challenge and opportunity for us as we head towards the state polls.
The challenge is to put in the effort to find out the facts, improve political literacy and demand greater accountability from our leaders.
But in doing so, we will have the opportunity to shape the narrative for a better Sarawak, one based on good governance and genuine concern for all, rather than mere rhetoric.