Should GPS stay neutral?

The Sheraton Hotel in Petaling Jaya may go down the annals of Malaysian political history in the same manner as the “Ming Court” incident of the redefined Sarawak politics in 1987.

Back then, the brewing political histrionics that began as a family feud between then Sarawak chief minister, Tun Abdul Taib Mahmud, and his uncle-predecessor, the late Tun Abdul Rahman Ya’kub, rumbled into a crescendo as a group of 28 state assemblymen (a majority in the then 48-seat state assembly) gathered at the then Ming Court Hotel in Kuala Lumpur to demand the resignation of the chief minister.

Taib quickly dissolved the assembly and the rest, as they say, is history.

Whatever one’s opinion may be of political happenings in the past few days, what may yet prove to be our collective saving grace is that constitutional procedures and strictures will be adhered to.

The rough and tumble of politics may be played out in hotel ballrooms or, sometimes, out in the streets, but in the end, the final call will be made in the Dewan Rakyat. Failing which, a fresh general election may be called.

If Malaysians in Sarawak draw satisfaction from seeing a repeat of their political history writ nationally, they also need to be prudent in what they wish for under the current climate of feigned or justified disquiet over claiming or reclaiming state rights and political autonomy.

Just as the fount of political harmony in the country is a sense of calm among the majority Malay populace, fruitful interactions between the state and federal governments can happen only with functioning governments at both levels.

Many in Sarawak take pride in the fact that their state government is independent of the powers-that-be in Putrajaya; although how that came about in the aftermath of Barisan Nasional’s humbling on May 8, 2018 is hardly edifying.

With its state election looming, how the state administration, now rechristened Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) and with 18 members in the Dewan Rakyat, leverages (or not) its potentially pivotal political strength has national ramifications as never before.

Perhaps among the wisest counsel came from political analyst Dr Jayum Jawan Empaling: “Strategically, wisdom tells us that supporting a faction in need means one’s value in political negotiation is enhanced. In troubled times, remaining neutral is not an option.”

Remaining neutral may be the default position for those less brave; fiddling while Rome burns instead of taking some risks with potentially hefty rewards.

Of course, there will be those along the corridors of power in Kuching advising for neutrality because Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Abang Openg can’t afford to take on what may be regarded by some as unnecessary risks.

Professor James Chin of University of Tasmania in Australia said Abang Johari’s job “is on the line”. The chief minister is girding to face his first electoral test, and all the political noise within and without the state is something he does not need at this stage. But, of course, it cannot be wished away.

Chin suggests a compromise not unlike that adopted by Sabah’s Parti Warisan Sabah-led government: pledging political support of GPS to a new federal government without being formally aligned to a federal coalition.

(GPS’ 18 MPs, led by Abang Johari, met Dr Mahathir in Putrajaya late yesterday afternoon to pledge GPS’ support to Dr Mahathir as prime minister.)

The writer views developments in the nation, region and wider world from his vantage point in Kuching, Sarawak

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