THE Sarawak state government’s exit from Barisan Nasional (BN) has once again changed the country’s political equation.
Sarawak’s Parti Pesaka Bumiputra Bersatu (PBB), Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS), Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP) and Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) left BN on Tuesday to form Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS), which will work with the new Pakatan Harapan (PH) federal government.
The state government is now on the same page as Parti Warisan Sabah in Sabah, its neighbour; both will focus on state interests and rights according to the Malaysia Agreement 1963.
It was obviously done for the sake of political survival so as not to be left out or behind when it comes to reaching its goal of a developed state; development of the state’s resources can only be achieved with the help of the federal government.
With the establishment of Petroleum Sarawak Bhd (Petros) recently, the state is looking to control the oil and gas industry as well as to request for higher oil royalty.
Although the Sarawak coalition is not part of PH, supporting the duly elected government is enough for Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to push and implement reforms in Parliament without much opposition.
PH now has 122 seats and with Sarawak delivering 19 federal seats, it now has 141, just six short of a two-thirds majority.
Sarawak’s move did not come as a surprise as pressure had been building even before the 14th general election for greater autonomy.
Before it can get there though, the state government knows it is vital to be on the same page as PH since it is the federal government that decides how the state’s wealth is to be used and distributed.
At the very least, abandoning BN and supporting the new federal government is the right thing to do now rather than have the state neglected. The state government would then have to face the wrath of the locals.
Working with the new government, GPS hopes to fulfill its aspiration of a Sarawak for Sarawakians where locals will play bigger and more important roles such as filling up all top-level positions in the state government as well as the private sector.
Being an oil-rich state, the issue of royalty will crop up again and this time the state may get a better deal than it did under BN, given that equal wealth distribution is one of the many pledges PH is trying to fulfil.
The equation in Parliament will favour PH and it can now push for drastic reforms fast in order to fulfil its manifesto pledges.
The loser in this political game is BN as its efforts to rejuvenate itself has now been dealt another blow with the Sarawak move.
Losing a loyal coalition partner since 1963, Umno-led BN may face another exodus from Sabah Umno, which is currently without direction and in disarray.
Tan Sri Salleh Said Keruak, who took over from Tan Sri Musa Aman, who is listed as MIA, is said to be not quite in agreement with other leaders within the party there.
Then there is BN component MCA, which is said to be mulling over whether to stay or go.
One thing is certain, things remain uncertain where BN is concerned.