By Annabelle Lee
SARAWAK POLLS | Over the past 12 days, most political fronts have campaigned on some iteration of Sarawak nationalism.
Some want more autonomy from the federal government and for the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63) to be honoured.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are calls for Sarawak to be fully independent from Malaysia.
In this article, Malaysiakini provides a brief overview of each party’s election message and pledges with regard to Sarawak’s rights.
Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS)
Vows to protect Sarawak from federal interference.
The incumbent government has positioned itself as the champion of MA63, especially after it managed to get the relevant constitutional amendments passed in the Dewan Rakyat four days before polling day.
One GPS billboard in Kuching
This emphasis is echoed in its election manifesto, where it pledged to “assure the stability and political autonomy of Sarawak”.
It also promised to “safeguard Sarawak’s rights” per the MA63, Federal Constitution and Sarawak Constitution. The manifesto did not detail how this would be achieved.
During the manifesto launch, GPS chairperson Abang Johari Openg repeatedly described the front as a mature coalition of “Sarawakian parties” that have governed Sarawak “sans interference from Peninsular Malaysia parties”.
Putting “Sarawak first” is not GPS’ only message. Based on news reports, it often touts potential development projects when canvassing voters on the ground.
Parti Sarawak Bersatu (PSB)
Wants far more autonomy in how Sarawak is actually governed.
This state-based opposition party has taken a more overt and elaborate stance on autonomy, pledging to govern Sarawak in a markedly different way should it form the government.
For instance, PSB wanted to challenge existing laws and “regain” Sarawak’s rights over petroleum, natural gas and other mineral resources.
It also wanted the Federal Constitution to be amended to give Sarawak one-third of the Dewan Rakyat seats to reflect its position as one of the three partners that make up Malaysia.
It further vowed to govern Sarawak as a secular state with “complete freedom of religion”.
In fact, almost all its election manifesto pledges circle back to ensuring Sarawak has and exercises complete autonomy.
PSB’s advertisements in local newspapers
PSB blamed GPS for allowing Sarawak’s MA63 rights to be eroded and has been taking out full-page advertisements in local newspapers every day to drive home this message.
The advertisements are headlined “we are not satisfied” and are published in four languages – Bahasa Malaysia, Iban, Mandarin and English.
Supports MA63 but the focus is on good governance.
The opposition coalition supports the MA63 constitutional amendments but is critical of calls for independence.
Sarawak Harapan chief Chong Chieng Jen has also reminded voters that it was Harapan that tabled the MA63 constitutional amendments back in 2019 only to be “sabotaged” by GPS and PAS MPs.
The Sarawak chapter of the federal opposition front has not structured its election campaign around calls for autonomy per see.
Instead, its main message is on being capable of pushing for good governance and holding GPS accountable.
Parti Aspirasi Rakyat Sarawak (Aspirasi)
Wants Sarawak independence via a referendum.
This is one of the two opposition parties calling for an independent Sarawak via a peaceful, lawful and democratic process.
Should any of its 15 candidates get elected, Aspirasi vowed to bring the “Sarawak Independence Referendum Act” to the legislative assembly.
The referendum is to enable Sarawakians to vote whether they want Sarawak to remain in Malaysia or be independent.
A party involving Sarawak for Sarawakians (S4S) activists, it believes a referendum is the best way to “legitimise” Sarawak’s claim to independence as it proves the people’s support for it.
According to president Lina Soo, Aspirasi elected representatives will also bring a previous S4S petition to the United Nations to demand referendum legislation for Sarawak.
The premise for Aspirasi’s message is that Sarawak has been “bullied and exploited” by Putrajaya since 1963.
This is echoed in all its campaign material, including on flags, banners and billboards.
Parti Bumi Kenyalang (PBK)
Will take Sarawak on the path to independence should it form the government.
This opposition party also called for a peaceful secession but through different methods.
Instead of a referendum, PBK said it “may” take Sarawak through a peaceful exit from Malaysia through a Unilateral Declaration of Independence.
It used Singapore as an example, but it must be noted that the city-state gained independence via a special act passed in the Dewan Rakyat, not through such a declaration.
A second possible method is to seek a court declaration that the MA63 is “invalid”, meaning Malaysia never legally existed under international law.
PBK has already filed a legal suit against the governments of Sarawak, Malaysia and the United Kingdom to challenge the validity of MA63.
Both these efforts hinge on the premise that PBK wins the Sarawak election.
A PBK truck in Kuching
Should it form a government and be successful in making Sarawak independent, PBK pledged in its manifesto to distribute at least 30 percent of annual revenue from crude oil production to all Sarawakian voters.
Also promised are free education, free medical care, and interest-free loans for starter homes for Sarawakians, among other things.
PBK argued that Sarawak has been under “colonialism and imperialism” while part of Malaysia, and uses the tagline “in quest of independence” in its campaign.
In Kuching, party activists drive through various parts of the city in vans that blast its call for independence to get its message across.
Several times a day, speakers on these vans emanate “Parti Bumi Kenyalang membawa Sarawak merdeka” (PBK brings the call for independence) on loop.
This is on top of banners that simply say “merdeka” (independence) along with a PBK logo.
Independence referendum vs Declaration
Aspirasi and PBK share the same goal but clash in their proposed methods for turning Sarawak into an independent nation.
Aspirasi previously disagreed with employing a Unilateral Declaration of Independence.
It argued that such a declaration by the International Court of Justice would not be legally binding and thus vulnerable to interventions by Putrajaya.
PBK president Voon Lee Shan and a party brochure
In turn, PBK president Voon Lee Shan told Malaysiakini he was concerned that Sarawakians may not vote for independence in a referendum.
Compared to Aspirasi, he believed PBK’s “simple” message of independence was more comprehensive and appealing to sympathisers.
“Aspirasi is fighting for independence also but I see a weakness in that party because they are fighting by way of a referendum.
“We don’t want a referendum because to my analysis, it may not give you the required results, the desired results,” he opined.
Faced with three large fronts GPS, PSB and Harapan, it remains to be seen how voters will respond to pro-independence movements.
Sarawak votes tomorrow.