Normal for Sarawak to rebuke Putrajaya, say political analysts

Desmond Davidson

Political analysts say the relationship between Sarawak’s ruling coalition, Gabungan Parti Sarawak and whichever government in power in Putrajaya is 'mostly transactional.’ – The Malaysian Insight file pic, October 22, 2023.

SARAWAK’s recent rebuke of Putrajaya on several issues is not an indication that all is not well between Petra Jaya and Putrajaya, political analysts said.

It’s a norm to be expected, they said, adding that it is also a result of strength in the hands of Sarawak’s ruling pact.

That’s because the relationship between Sarawak’s ruling coalition, Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) and whoever is in power in Putrajaya is ‘mostly transactional’, University of Tasmania’s Asian governance expert James Chin told The Malaysian Insight.

He said it has been that way since 2018.

In recent weeks Sarawak had publicly told Putrajaya not to interfere with the state’s carbon deal.

It had also accused the federal government of “sabotaging” the state in the mid-term review report of the 12th Malaysia Plan.

Chin said Sarawak, then later Sabah, took advantage of a weak central government to make a series of demands in return for their support to keep the government of the day in power.

He was alluding to the seismic shift in the country’s political landscape with Barisan Nasional’s (BN) loss in the general election in 2018 after having been in power since the country was granted independence by the British.

No one party or coalition in the peninsula is strong enough to rule by itself since then, thus requiring support from Borneo parties.

“The position of Sarawak and Sabah is that they will support whichever coalition that will meet most, if not all, of their demands.

“They really don’t care who’s in charge in Putrajaya,” Chin said.

Sarawak Premier Abang Johari Openg recently revealed there had been attempts to usurp the state’s powers in the management, regulation and trading of carbon emission – a potentially lucrative future business.

The premier did not name names but he had hinted it was Putrajaya.

Then the information chief of Abang Johari’s Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB), Idris Buang, accused the PKR-led Pakatan Harapan unity government of “sabotaging” the state in the mid-term review of the 12th Malaysia Plan that was tabled in Dewan Rakyat on September 11.

PBB is the lynchpin of the four-party GPS. The others being the Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP), Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) and the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP).

Idris, the Muara Tuang assemblyman and deputy speaker of the state legislative assembly, said the section of the report on development in Sarawak was “super-damaging” as the facts were “disputable”.

“Obviously unverified. The content, seemingly political in nature, are obnoxiously incorrect and had been published without care and etiquette,” he added.

GPS is not a formal member of the PH coalition. It only supports it.

Prior to the general election in November last year, GPS had supported the rival Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition for them to stay in power.

Professor of political science at Universiti Putra Malaysia Jayum Jawan says Sarawak and Sabah will continue to make noises, 'at times loud', because the unity government is weak. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, October 22, 2023.

Making loud noises

Jayum Jawan, the professor of political science at Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) agreed with Chin and said Sarawak and Sabah will continue to make noises, “at times loud”, because the unity government is weak.

“Both regions know that the alliance led by PH and PKR is weak and could break at anytime. As such, Sarawak and Sabah have been more daring in making their wishes known compared to before when they were allies in a strong BN.”

Jawan said when they were part of the BN coalition, “they remained quiet and were willing to accept what federal leaders under all previous eight prime ministers would dish out to them”.

Not any more, he said.

He said many of what Anwar Ibrahim’s unity government promised to look into and return to Sarawak and Sabah were “mere words”.

He said those rights and privileges that have been lost through legislations might not be “as easy as Anwar promised”.

Jawan said for Sarawak and Sabah to regain those lost rights, the process has to pass through parliament which in some cases requires the two-thirds support of MPs.

He also cautioned seasoned politicians from Sarawak and Sabah to stop “blowing their horns and celebrating victory on any concessions extracted from the unity government.

Chin said “political elites linked to the old Umno group” were behind the attempt to get hold of Sarawak’s carbon deal just like they did with the state’s oil and gas resources.

He said this group was unhappy with the state’s carbon capture deal with Singapore.

“They are very unhappy that Sarawak is developing a G2G relationship with Singapore. 

Chin said these “Malay elites” never gotten over the fact that Singapore, a small island with no natural resources, could still be more successful than resource-rich Malaysia.

Whatever their gripe, Chin said at the end of the day it is not possible for Putrajaya to stop Sarawak from developing a G2G relationship with Singapore.

“This carbon deal will go through. This is a test case for other things, like the export of energy.

“The bigger picture is that the G2G relationship is independent of Putrajaya which they are not very happy about.” – October 22, 2023.

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