While it may not necessarily play the role of kingmaker, Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) is expected to function as a stabilising factor amid the power struggles and shifting alliances in the peninsula once the 15th general election (GE15) is called, political observers say.
Speaking to MalaysiaNow, they said whichever coalition emerges the victor will have to forge ties with GPS, the ruling pact in Sarawak, to strengthen the next federal government.
Hisommudin Bakar of think tank Ilham Centre said the internal factions in Umno made it difficult to determine which party, if any, was likely to win a solid majority in terms of peninsular seats.
He also pointed to the tussles between Umno and Bersatu, saying neither side could go without forming ties with Sarawak MPs to bolster their support, given the strong likelihood that GPS will win the lion’s share of seats in the East Malaysian state.
“The focus of the power struggle is on the 165 seats in the peninsula,” he said.
“This never-ending political squabble should be utilised by GPS. Given its tremendous political power in Sarawak, I believe GPS will be the backbone to the creation of any stable government.”
Even before the state election in December 2021, he said, GPS had been critical in providing support for two prime ministers following the collapse of the Pakatan Harapan government in February 2020.
It was GPS’ share of 18 out of Sarawak’s 31 parliamentary seats that had provided Muhyiddin Yassin with the support he needed to take over the top seat in the wake of the Sheraton Move.
As a result, GPS became part of the federal government and is currently aligned with the two major Malay coalitions of Barisan Nasional (BN) and Perikatan Nasional (PN).
GPS leaders were also appointed to the federal Cabinet, with four given the rank of full ministers and five others designated as deputy ministers.
Within the current government, the coalition’s 18 MPs also provide crucial backing for Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, who has a slim four-seat majority in Parliament.
Hisommudin said whichever coalition formed the government would be obliged to disburse more funds for development and acknowledge Sarawak’s rights under the Malaysia Agreement 1963.
“This gives GPS a lot of bargaining power to demand equitable development and rights that should be fulfilled by the federation for Sarawak,” he said.
He also cited issues such as oil royalties, basic infrastructure development for water, electricity and internet, and education.
Political observer James Chin agreed, voicing reservations however over whether GPS would indeed be the kingmaker in GE15.
“This would depend on the results,” he told MalaysiaNow.
“If the results are very close with those in the peninsula – if, for example, Umno and BN win about 100 seats – then GPS will be the kingmaker.
“If Umno and BN win more than 115 seats, then they will not need GPS. GPS will ally itself with them and become the government of the day. But it will no longer be the kingmaker.”
This, he added, would be the point of interest in GE15.
“They want to remain in government but they also cannot allow Umno to become too powerful.”
Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, agreed that GPS would not be regarded as a kingmaker as the coalition had always had a good relationship with BN.
“With or without the Tajuddin leak, PKR is not doing well in Sarawak and the rest of Malaysia,” he said, referring to the series of plots and back-stabbings in Umno revealed by former Umno Supreme Council member Tajuddin Abdul Rahman.
“GPS with its tremendous incumbent advantage and control over state resources will no doubt do very well in the next election,” he said.
“It is not quite a kingmaker as kingmaking implies supporting either side. But GPS always supports BN and PN, never Pakatan Harapan (PH).”
Hisommudin however disagreed, saying GPS would likely be kingmaker once more.
“In the past, things may have been focused on the two big coalitions, namely BN and PH. But now, a new coalition has emerged – PN is challenging the dominance of these two groups.”
He said intense squabbling might lead to a split vote and a lower voter turnout due to political apathy among voters.
“The emergence of new parties such as Pejuang, Muda, PBM and others will also provide a different dynamic than in GE14,” he added.
“The election results will not be a single party holding a simple majority. This is where Bornean parties in Sabah and Sarawak will be the determining force.”