Changing the status quo

  • It's Just Politics
  • Sunday, 08 Jul 2018

WHEN Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia Assoc Prof Dr Faisal S. Hazis was back in Sarawak last week to give a talk, he had a sense that Sarawakians did not know how to make sense of the new political situation in the state.

Sarawakians were talking about the possible entry of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) into Sarawak. Some were confused that Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) was no longer with Barisan Nasional and is now Pakatan Harapan –friendly.

“They wonder how the GPS arrangement works since the opposition coalition in Sarawak is Pakatan Harapan. Even some Pakatan leaders were not sure how the arrangement works,” said Faisal, who is an expert on Sarawak politics.

(When Barisan lost GE14, the Sarawak Barisan parties – PBB led by Sarawak Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg, Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS), Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP) and Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) – ditched the coalition to form GPS.)

On June 25, when PPBM chairman Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad announced that his party would pikir (think) about opening up branches in Sarawak, it got Sarawakians thinking.

“Dr Mahathir used the word ‘pikir”. There is no concrete plan for PPBM to make a formal entry to the state,” said Faisal.

However, for Universiti Malaysia Sarawak political analyst Assoc Prof Dr Jeniri Amir, PPBM’s entry to his state is fait accompli.

“They will enter Sarawak based on today’s newspaper report that in Kuching alone there 3,777 people have signed up as member,” he said.

Faisal opined that there were several reasons why Dr Mahathir is thinking of entering Sarawak and not Sabah. Pakatan has no formal agreement with GPS, unlike Parti Warisan Sabah which has an electoral pact in the state with PKR and DAP. Sarawak Pakatan has not made any significant inroads in the Muslim (Malay and Melanau) seats in Sarawak. He also said that since the Pakatan government did not have an official alliance with GPS, PPBM’s possible entry to the state was to push GPS into a corner.

“It might be saying that it might not be enough for GPS to say that it is friendly with Pakatan and yet it is outside of Pakatan. This could put GPS leaders into a thinking mode that to prevent PPBM from entering the state, it needs to do more,” he said.

In post GE14, according to Faisal, Sarawak Barisan (which is now GPS) has lost its leverage. In post GE12 and GE13, Barisan needed the support of Sarawak Barisan to form the government.

The Pakatan government, however, formed the government with 113 seats plus Warisan’s eight seats and three independent MPs. It did not need the Sarawak Barisan MPs.

“The 19 MPs from GPS would be welcome for Dr Mahathir as it will give his government a bigger majority in Parliament,” he said.

Jeniri agreed that GPS had lost its leverage on the Federal government.

“Now, it entirely depends on the Prime Minister and not the Sarawak Chief Minister on whether it wanted to fulfil Pakatan’s manifesto promise to restore the status of Sarawak (and Sabah) to that stipulated in MA63,” he said, referring to the Malaysian Agreement 1963.

GPS doesn’t even have a minister in Dr Mahathir’s cabinet, he added. “For the first time in history, there is no Muslim minister from Sarawak. This has far-reaching implication. The Sarawakian Muslims will feel marginalised,” he said.

Now that GPS has lost the leverage, Faisal said it would face difficulty in keeping the Federal government’s promise to devolve power to the state.

“Now, Dr Mahathir can actually call the shots in trying to frame the Federal/state relations. And one thing that the Prime Minister needs to control is the growing state nationalism (which includes increasing the petroleum royalty to Sarawak to 20% that Pakatan promised in its manifesto),” he said.

On the role of GPS, Jeniri said, the four-party coalition was going to be Pakatan-friendly in the Dewan Rakyat. But at the state level, it is confusing as Sarawak Pakatan has stated it would play its usual role as the Opposition.

“If GPS plays a friendly role at the Federal level, Sarawak Pakatan has to be friendly with GPS at the state level. If they go with that line, who is going to be the Opposition in Sarawak? Who is going to do check and balance? It will not be good for the state,” he said.

Faisal said Sarawak Pakatan would be the opposition in the state as it would want to win the next Sarawak polls which has to be held by 2021. Jeniri said the next state polls would be tough for GPS. It is going to lose more seats to Pakatan but it would win enough to remain the Sarawak government

“It might be GPS’ (formerly Sarawak BN) worst election in terms of performance. It would lose more Dayak seats as the community has changed their political mindset (that the Opposition can’t win Federal government). But GPS (via PBB) will retain most of its Muslim seats,” he said.

If Pakatan could come up with strong Muslim Sarawakian leader and if the Dr Mahathir government showed that it could push inclusive politics and not sacrifice Malay interest, Pakatan winning Sarawak was not impossible, said Faisal.

The political status quo in Sarawak has changed. It is a free-for-all until the next state polls.

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