Saturday, September 18, 2021

Bersatu treads carefully as it eyes ‘one or two seats’ in Sarawak without hurting GPS

But questions have been raised about the extent to which Perikatan Nasional's offer to campaign for GPS will help the coalition in the state.

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While it is keen to represent seats in Sarawak, Bersatu says it understands and respects any stand by GPS if the ruling coalition decides not to make way for friendly parties from the peninsula.

“We acknowledge that we are not big. We understand their stand and we respect that, and we want to make sure that our relationship is harmonious because we are in the same boat,” Sarawak Bersatu chairman, Jaziri Alkaf A Suffian, who doubles as the state’s Perikatan Nasional (PN) chief, told MalaysiaNow.

PN recently extended its full cooperation to GPS, pledging to mobilise its resources to help its Sarawak ally win in the impending state election, as well as the future general election.

This followed PN chairman and Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s first official visit to Sarawak since coming to power, seen as boosting ties between Putrajaya and the state government despite a campaign by Umno leaders to abandon the federal ruling bloc.

Muhyiddin during his visit refused to comment on whether his party would contest in Sarawak, saying it was subject to agreement from GPS.

GPS, with PBB as its lynchpin, emerged following the exit of Sarawak’s Barisan Nasional parties from the former ruling powerhouse after the 2018 general election.

GPS member parties represent Sarawak’s diverse and often complicated demographics. PBB is seen as representing the Melanau and Malay communities and SUPP the Chinese, while PDP and PRS are tied to the non-Muslim indigenous communities.

James Chin, an analyst of Sarawak politics sympathetic to Pakatan Harapan, does not think that PN’s offer to campaign for GPS will help the coalition.

He told MalaysiaNow that GPS may be wary of involvement by PAS, a key component of PN, in any election campaign.

The Islamist party, which set up camp in Sarawak some two decades ago, has never won a seat in the state.

“They will not be able to make any impact and even if they are allowed to contest, it will be a complete failure,” said Chin.

He also does not see GPS needing the help of Bersatu and other peninsular parties, saying it would undermine the coalition’s efforts to brand itself as a local party after years of being part of BN before the 2018 polls.

“The upcoming state election will be their first appearance under GPS, so they cannot allow them (PN) to come because this is the time for GPS to convince the people that they have rebranded themselves,” Chin added.

Neither does he foresee GPS giving way to PN despite the boost in their political alliance.

He said in any case, parties such as Bersatu and PAS can hope to win only in the state’s urban areas.

“The only issue now is the Krian seat held by Ali Biju, which is still under discussion,” he said, referring to the assemblyman who switched camps from PKR to Bersatu.

Ali Biju had twice defeated BN in Krian, a predominantly Iban state constituency.

Meanwhile, Bersatu leaders such as Jaziri are seen as being careful with their words, cautious of disrupting the close ties achieved during Muhyiddin’s recent visit.

He maintains that his party’s main focus now is not on seats.

“We respect GPS’ stand to contest all 82 state seats in the upcoming state election,” he said, adding that he hoped Ali Biju would be allowed to contest.

“But personally, let’s hear what the people on the ground want. Maybe one, two or more seats,” he added.

Jaziri is confident that with 45,000 members in Sarawak, Bersatu is well placed to mobilise support for the ruling bloc.

“So, what if we are able to contribute one or two seats which can strengthen the state government in Sarawak? If we can do that, wouldn’t it be better for GPS?”

He admitted that Bersatu is “not big” in Sarawak, saying it should not be viewed as a threat by GPS, something he said he had told Chief Minister Abang Johari Openg.

“I personally told Abang Johari, we are here to assist, and not to worry. Although we are not big, we do have people on the ground to help them.

“Our Sarawak committee and members in the state are all Sarawakians comprising various ethnicities,” he added.

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