Sarawak BN parties had to rebrand themselves, fearing wipe-out at next state elections, says analyst

  • Nation
  • Wednesday, 13 Jun 2018

Workers at PBB HQ in Kuching immediately remove the BN logo after Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg announced that PBB and Sarawak BN parties are pulling out from the coalition to form GPS. - Zulazhar Sheblee/The Star

KUCHING: Sarawak’s former Barisan Nasional component parties had to rebrand themselves of face being "wiped-out" at the next state elections, said an analyst.

University of Tasmania’s Asia Institute director Prof James Chin said the party leaders had probably thought about quitting on May 9 when they saw how badly Barisan was doing.

“There was a delay of about a month in announcing the decision because the parties had to be seen to be going through the process of consulting members.

“But I think on the night itself, they already realised the Barisan brand was toxic and they had to get out,” he said.

Chin said the Sarawak parties were also worried that they would be “wiped out” in the next state elections due by 2021 if they remained in Barisan, particularly if the Pakatan Harapan-led Federal Government does a good job.

“So they have to rebrand themselves. But this is an unusual rebranding because there is no change in leadership. It is just a change of name and logo,” he said.

Sarawak Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg announced yesterday that the four component parties of PBB, SUPP, PRS and PDP were leaving Barisan to form a state-based coalition – Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS).

Chin pointed out that both the Sarawak and Sabah state governments were now led by parties that were not part of the Federal Government.

“The parties in Sabah and Sarawak are now casting themselves as Malaysia Agreement nationalists. Whoever is pro-Federal Government has no political future.

“It’s now very interesting that the political ideology in Sabah and Sarawak is state nationalism,” he said.

However, he said GPS would still face a tough fight in the next state elections if the Pakatan Federal Government performs well and proves to be popular.

“This is because Pakatan can offer something that GPS cannot, which is full autonomy to Sarawak,” he said.

Universiti Malaysia Sarawak political analyst Assoc Prof Dr Jeniri Amir said the former Sarawak Barisan parties were being pragmatic for their political survival.

“As long as they are still with Barisan, they will face problems in the next state elections. The only way forward is to part ways in order to survive the most challenging of polls in 2021,” he said.

As an independent coalition, he added that GPS no longer had to refer to Federal leadership but was free to make its own decisions.

He said it was also important for the new coalition to change its political strategies and philosophies in line with the people’s aspirations.

“Otherwise, people will just label them as GPS with no direction. What matters to the people is the fight for Sarawak’s rights and delivery of promises,” he said.

Sstate Pakatan Harapan chairman Chong Chieng Jen.said unless there is a clear change in policies by the Sarawak government, a mere change of name from Sarawak Barisan Nasional to Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) was meaningless.

He said pulling out of Barisan would not make any difference in the state’s political landscape as they were still the same component parties with the same old policies.

Chong also criticised GPS for abandoning Barisan.

“A friend in need is a friend indeed, and PBB, PRS, PDP and SUPP surely did not subscribe to such a notion. They were only friends in good times but in difficult times, they had no hesitation to dump their friends,” said Chong.

He pointed out it was only months ago that Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg and SUPP president Datuk Dr Sim Kui Hian sang praises about Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak being the best leader for the state and country.

He also cited a news report on May 14, after the elections, which quoted PRS president Tan Sri James Masing as saying that the party would "sink or swim" with Barisan.

“Yet they all quit Barisan. In the future, what if Umno becomes stronger? Will they go along with Umno?” Chong asked.

State DAP deputy chairman Chiew Ching Sing said Sarawak Pakatan Harapan, which includes DAP, PKR and Amanah, will take on GPS in the next state elections due by 2021.

He said the new GPS coalition of PBB, SUPP, PRS and PDP were still on "the other side" of the political divide.

“They may have declared themselves as Pakatan friendly but since they are not part of Sarawak Pakatan, we still have to fight them in the next state polls which will be held in less than three years,” Chiew told The Star.

Chiew, who is state assemblyman for Tanjung Batu, added it was pointless for former Sarawak Barisan Nasional parties to rename their coalition without changing how they administered the state.

Robert Anthony, a businessman from Sibu, said it was the same old faces in the new GPS coalition.

He added that the state government should come out and tell the people what it intends to do, other than harping about the return of Sarawak’s rights which they were not vocal about when Barisan was in power.

“They may have changed their skin with good intention but the spots are still there! So, with this new coalition, does it make any difference or change anything?” he asked.

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