Will Pakatan Harapan Lose its Lustre in Sarawak just like in Malaya?

The signs out there in Semenanjung are clear. There have been seven by-elections so far, of which the first four were all won by Pakatan Harapan, but the last three all by Barisan Nasional.

In the first four by-elections Pakatan Harapan won between 58.6% (in Seri Setia) and 85% ( in Balakong) of the total votes cast, while in the last three, PH only managed to win between 35.8% ( in Rantau) and 45.6% ( in Semenyih) of those votes.

The PH victories in the first four by-election were not unexpected since these were held almost immediately after the GE 14, when the Pakatan Harapan euphoria was still strong. Even then the voter turnouts were low as most voters preferred to stay away, probably out of election fatigue or rather showing early signs of change of heart.

The voting trend away from Pakatan Harapan became more obvious in the subsequent by-elections, namely Cameron Highlands, Semenyih and Rantau which were all won by Barisan Nasional.

Many factors were cited for the gains made by BN in these recent polls. Among them are widespread anger over the PH failure to fulfill general election promises, most important being cancelling of tertiary education loans, creating employment, keeping cost of living down, abolishing road tolls, and many more. It is in deed very difficult, if not impossible to keep these promises, let alone within such a short period of 100 days as promised.

It is yet to be seen if Pakatan Harapan Federal Government can fulfill these promises in the next four years running to the GE 15. My guess is these are impossible to achieve if Federal Government were to accede to Sarawak’s demand for its rights prescribed in MA 63, including financial autonomy. These promises need money to fulfill and the only source is from oil and gas, most of which actually come from Sarawak. So, the question is which side will win in the tussle over petroleum money, Kuching or Putrajaya. If Sarawak wins, we Sarawakians will benefit. On the other hand if Putrajaya wins Sarawak will continue to be its Cash Cow.

Still the above issues are not insurmountable. It is for the Federal Government to balance Sarawak’s demands against its GE 14 promises, most of which will benefit Malayan states. If Sarawakians are all united behind the state government in our fight for Sarawak’s Rights, we could tip the scale to our benefit. There is no reason to lose in this struggle.

The more serious threat to Pakatan Harapan current dominance in the Malaysian politics actually come from another direction, namely from the current moods of the Malays to unite under the banner of PAS and UMNO. These two parties actually obtained 75% of the Malay votes in the GE 14, meaning that after the ousting of BN, the Malays suddenly found themselves only having little political power.

Their political dominance has been shattered, thus providing the catalyst for call of unity that we see now. This may build up into a strong backlash against DAP’s current political dominance and control over 95% of the Chinese votes in the country.

The 75% combined Malay support BN/PAS received in the last four by-elections is actually the same as what BN and PAS received in total in the GE 14. What make them formidable now is their ability to face elections together against Pakatan Harapan.

However, the BN-PAS combination carries the risk of pushing Malaysia further along the road of racial and religious extremism. Hence, a Federal Government formed on this dual pillar, if elected without substantial participation of other races will not be good for the country. Blame it on Najib or Tun Mahathir for the recent General Election defeat of BN, but what is happening now is actually a natural consequence of the great racial divide originally provoked by DAP. The Peninsular Malays have no choice but to reunite and to be with PAS is the only way for BN. Both MCA and MIC has accepted it.

It should be noted, the Malays no longer look up to Tun Mahathir as their leader as he is now on the other side of the political divide having been propped up there as Prime Minister by DAP.

However, judging from Rantau and Cameron Highlands By-elections there are indication of substantial shifts in Indian votes in favour of BN. Whether this will sustain until the next general election, it may be too early to tell, but will likely depend on BN/PAS ability to retain Malay support as a united front which in turn could serve as the catalyst for renewed support from other races.

For us in Sarawak, we are facing a hostile PH Federal Government and unsupportive Malayans. It makes more sense to rally behind the State Government under the leadership of Abang Jo and fight for the full powers provided by MA 63, for our autonomy, pride and dignity as a territory and people.

There has been no by-elections in Sarawak so far, hence it is not so easy to read the poitical pulse in the state. But, what we do know is that the post election euphoria for Pakatan Harapan is now gone, just as in Peninsular Malaysia. Local issues now take the centre stage here, particularly the fight for autonomy under MA 63 and the states rights over petroleum. It is hard to imagine if there is any Sarawakian not subscribing to this state ideals.

Local partners of the Pakatan Harapan are now facing a test of their lifetime, ie to be loyal to Sarawak ideals or to ideals of their Malayan based parties. They are now facing what the past local Barisan Nasional leaders faced in the last 55 years.

For those past leaders, the current generations of Sarawakians may understand their predicaments as at that time they were facing a mighty Federal Government that could even overwhelm the Parliament and having war arsenals like Internal Security Act to subdue any dissenting voices.

On the other hand, Pakatan Harapan is now the Federal Government. What have the local PH leaders done or achieved for the state? Did they get more fund or more development for the state? We know that even the three major bridge projects approved by the previous BN Federal Government have been cancelled. Yet these leaders have nothing to fear, except of course, the fear of losing their positions and perks in the government.

However, fighting for Sarawak Rights may be something that the political elites appreciate. But are the ordinary people, especially in the rural areas, aware of what it means and what benefits are there for them. Is there strong emotional attachment to it? Probably GPS campaign machinery is doing something about it while Pakatan Harapan is strategising to counter it.

Yet politics in Malaysia can be very dynamic as new issue can crop up anytime. It will be interesting to watch how things will play up in the run up to the state election slated for 2021. The stakes are high, so do the intensity of campaign efforts and political propaganda that come with it.

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DAH IKHWAN

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