Big win comes with huge burden for Abang Jo


Photo: Bernama

IT was a moment that most politicians could only dream of.

But Tan Sri Abang Johari Abang Openg was aware that a landslide election win comes with responsibilities and his victory speech had the right touch of humility and jubilation.

Winning was never in question but the Sarawak Chief Minister certainly did not expect this political tsunami that swept 76 out of 82 state seats into the arms of Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS).

Abang Johari, said political commentator Khaw Veon Szu, has finally emerged from the shadow of his predecessors, especially that of Tun Taib Mahmud.

But what mattered most to Abang Johari was that Sarawakians have spoken on the issue of state autonomy and he wants his friends in the Federal Government to take note.

Key points in his victory speech spell out what lies ahead in Sarawak-Putrajaya relations - He sees Sarawak as a regional partner of Malaysia, he intends to maintain the Sarawak way of moderation and it will always be Sarawak first in all his policies.

All this will be more clearly defined in the coming years.

The sense of state regionalism that was palpable throughout the election campaign is irreversible.

Sarawakians also voted for stability because they are not impressed by the political instability or the politics of race and religion they see in the peninsula.

GPS had been the beautiful belle that every other party was trying to court, but Abang Johari is now the king of the hill.

“He represents a stable entity. He will be a true kingmaker in the general election,” said Khaw.

But the election night shocker came from the opposition parties.

It was the most crowded opposition field in the state electoral history and the opposition parties ended up cannibalising each other.

The regionalism sentiment also drove many opposition-leaning voters to opt for homegrown parties like Parti Sarawak Bersatu (PSB), Parti Bumi Kenyalang (PBK) and Aspirasi.

Peninsula parties, as the Borneo Post puts it, “were walloped” and shown the exit.

DAP’s fall was the most painful. Once the darling of the Chinese, it was left with only two seats.

Its state chairman Chong Chieng Jen, who migrated to a safer seat in Padungan, got by with a majority of 1,198 votes. The seat he had run away from in Kota Sentosa fell to GPS.

DAP strongwoman Violet Yong, who used to win Pending with sky-high majorities, barely made it with a 590-vote majority.

Eleven DAP candidates lost their deposits.

DAP’s “Malaysian Malaysia” slogan was sadly out of tune with the “Sarawak for Sarawakians” sentiment.

It was a dark night for peninsula parties. PKR, Amanah and PAS ended with zero seats.

PAS should get real and recognise that Sarawakians don’t want its brand of political Islamism and, likewise Amanah, which is seen as an offshoot of PAS.

Despite the massive mandate, GPS should take note that the combined opposition vote count in many of the urban seats was more than that of the winning candidates.

It means that the opposition will never go out of fashion.

“We need a credible opposition as a check and balance but we don’t want the arrogant and rough style of DAP politics. They don’t represent the Sarawak way. People feel it is better to put their trust in local parties,” said Datuk Jonathan Chai, secretary of the Sarawak Business Federation.

Pakatan Harapan parties were also punished for failing to deliver on the outlandish promises made in the 2018 general election.

An oft-heard complaint was that DAP has taken the Chinese support for granted and Chong, the state chief, was arrogant and had become the “Lim Guan Eng of Sarawak”.

PSB, led by Sibu strongman Datuk Seri Wong Soon Koh, failed to live up to its threat to become the government.

Wong has been in politics for more than 30 years. He survived this long because he used to be part of the government. This is his first election as an opposition and, as he admitted, he made it because of the Chinese vote.

The longhouse communities which he had served so well, opted to go with the ruling coalition. That is how the cookie crumbles in Sarawak politics.

The homegrown opposition parties are here to stay. They have the potential to replace the imported brands from the peninsula.

“Sarawakians are demanding to be given what is due to them. They have always felt that the central government rode rough-shod over them.

“I see more and more Sarawakians putting their trust in Sarawak parties to champion their interests,” said political analyst Ivanpal S. Grewal.

This has been a sort of coming-of-age election for Sarawakians, a proud moment for all of them.

Chai said it is also a critical time for the government to deliver.

“We want to see the evolution of state autonomy. No more excuses and delays, just get on with the job.

“But most of all, and this comes from my heart, I want to see Sarawak continue as a model state for moderation,” said Chai.

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