The resolution of outstanding issues that have become a bone of contention between Sarawak and successive governments in Putrajaya is still the key to achieving more durable support from people in the state, analysts say.
They said Perikatan Nasional’s (PN) agreement to pay billions of dollars of petroleum tax to Sarawak, just months after coming to power, had had a huge impact in restoring ties that had soured for decades, on the back of growing unhappiness that the federal government has not held up its end of the bargain as stated in the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63).
Sarawak has been demanding more power as spelt out under MA63, the document through which it became part of the Malaysian federation alongside Sabah.
Seasoned Sarawak academic Jeniri Amir, who has written extensively on the state’s current affairs and history, said Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin should ride on the good vibes he currently enjoys with Petra Jaya, the seat of the Sarawak government.
He said beyond the settlement of oil taxes, Muhyiddin must move quickly to remove other hurdles in the way of better ties – which translates into political support for the federal government.
“The move to appeal against the court decision allowing non-Muslims to use the word ‘Allah’ may affect support, especially from the Christians.”
These include a clear stand by the prime minister on the “Allah” case, as well as outstanding issues linked to MA63.
Putrajaya is appealing a court ruling allowing Christians to use the word “Allah” in religious texts.
“The move to appeal against the court decision allowing non-Muslims to use the word ‘Allah’ may affect support, especially from the Christians,” Jeniri told MalaysiaNow.
During his recent visit, Muhyiddin declined to comment on the issue, saying his government would leave it to the court.
Sarawak is the only state in Malaysia with a Christian majority, with the community comprising some 40% of the population.
Jeniri said the federal stand on the “Allah” issue, which is in line with various state Islamic enactments banning non-Muslims from using the term, could paint the picture that Putrajaya is not sincere in acknowledging Sarawak’s rights.
Jeniri also said it is important for Muhyiddin to show he is fulfilling Sarawak’s demands before the election, and not after.
So far, Muhyiddin has done well, he added.
“To be fair to Muhyiddin, he has been trying to show his commitment by fulfilling the demand from the Sarawak government on the SST payment of the oil and gas revenue from Petronas,” he added.
“If they (PN) want to contest, that’s their decision but of course, this will show that there is no spirit of unity in the government.”
But he said Muhyiddin must do more, especially in the wake of attacks by Umno, the party with which GPS components were once together in the now-defunct Sarawak Barisan Nasional.
Muhyiddin’s recent visit is seen by analysts as a boost to his image in Sarawak, with Chief Minister Abang Johari Openg stating his support for the prime minister and his PN government.
On its part, the PN coalition vowed to back GPS in the impending Sarawak state election.
That pledge by PN has given rise to questions on whether Bersatu and PAS, the coalition’s two component parties, will still contest in the Sarawak state election.
A leader of PBB, the party led by the chief minister and seen as the backbone of the GPS coalition, said not contesting in Sarawak would further cement the ties between PN and GPS.
PBB’s Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, who is part of the party’s Supreme Council, thanked Muhyiddin for his pledge to mobilise PN’s machinery in the upcoming polls.
But he pointed out that during PBB’s alliance with Umno under BN, Umno had never contested in Sarawak.
He said there are expectations that such an arrangement will remain.
“If they (PN) want to contest, that’s their decision but of course, this will show that there is no spirit of unity in the government,” he said.
“So, it is good if PAS and Bersatu don’t contest in Sarawak so that our relations are not only at the federal level but also at the state level.”
When contacted, a spokesman for Sarawak PAS said it was open to working with anyone, adding that it is for the central leadership to decide.
“The priority now is together ensuring political stability in Sarawak which will also ensure political stability at the national level,” Sarawak PAS information chief Zharudin Narudin told MalaysiaNow.