Making his dramatic ‘hop’ today from one side of the political divide to the other, Sarawak Chief Minister Abang Jo fully confirmed the view that his party, PBB, does not regard itself as being representative of the people of the state, but of the powers that be over in KL – telling the Sarawak people what to do.
This political ‘change of heart’ was not about manifestos or agendas or political values, it was about his well founded fear of wipe-out at the next state election, now that his party has lost its powerful federal friends. For decades PBB has wielded the big stick over communities in Sarawak, reminding them that their BN coalition represented the guys who control the army and the police across the water.
Under Najib, their own man (Fadillah Yusof) even sat in the top chair at the Public Works Department signing off all the big contracts, whilst his businessman brother Bustari ‘interfaced’ with myriad government contracts ‘of interest’ to the PM. So, PBB controlled the strings to the purse as well.
Sarawakians and the present local opposition parties will be asking how this fits with the reform agenda of Pakatan Harapan, which PBB/BN bitterly opposed at GE14? They will also be asking what intention any of this shows of a PBB state government protecting local interests against the interests of a cash strapped federal government in KL?
Of course, this all remains half-baked manoeuvring, not least with the party’s own Secretary General making clear he was not aware of the new arrangement!
So far, according to reports, it is merely a question of the Chief Minister having informed Prime Minister Mahathir of his decision to move over to support him (certainly in the dictatorial days of Taib Mahmud this would have been enough). In return, the Harapan leader has made clear he would be happy to have PBB voting with him on a federal level, not least since it would give him a 2/3 majority.
However, in terms of formally joining the Harapan coalition, matters promise to be thornier. What are the long-term opposition folk in Sarawak, who have long worked for parties like PKR and DAP going to say when it comes down to parcelling out seats locally at the state election?
The constituent parties of Harapan first came together having signed a ‘Declaration’ on ideals, which PBB notably refused to sign up to – in Sarawak’s case the issue of oil and resource justice is key in that respect.
Politics, even for cynics, has to revolve round stated principles and ideas, so why should the state parties of Harapan agree to just absorb a bunch of visceral opponents, whom they believe have wrecked the country for decades, simply because those opponents fear losing next time round?
Abang Jo and his friends want to keep holding positions of power and to continue to be the top guns in Sarawak, for reasons of pure self-interest, so they are asking to join the winning team, straight after they lost a vital match. But, they are likely to find the positions are filled and that their skills in dirty tackles are not required.
These political ‘frogs’ may not care about principles and policies (as opposed to positions, profit and projects, which they do care about) but their Harapan opponents have fought for principles for years and will not just give them up.