Parti Sarawak Bersatu upbeat about chances in state polls

PSB president Wong Soon Koh (left) recently welcomed former Sarawak PKR chief Baru Bian to the party.

PETALING JAYA: Parti Sarawak Bersatu (PSB) appears determined to pull off a coup reminiscent of Warisan’s ouster of Barisan Nasional in neighbouring Sabah in May 2018.

PSB, like Warisan, has no direct ties with peninsula-based parties, and its president, Wong Soon Koh, says that makes it the best alternative to the ruling Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS).

The multiracial PSB, formed in 2014, is a rebirth of UPP, which was a splinter of the Chinese-dominated SUPP. Among those who have joined it are former PKR leaders and members led by Selangau MP Baru Bian.

GPS, which is itself a rather new coalition, is controlled by personalities associated with the old guard, just as BN represented Sabah’s old guard.

Speaking to FMT, Wong acknowledged that the battle against the resource-rich GPS would be tough, but said he believed the people of Sarawak were ready for a genuine, multiracial alternative.

“GPS is seen by Sarawakians as the party that put PAS and Umno in Putrajaya,” he said, adding that PAS’ unpopularity in Sarawak was well known.

He said PSB was preparing not only for the next state election but also for the possibility of a snap general election.

The politics of development would form the core of its campaign message, he said. It would, for instance, promise to scrap “extravagant projects” like the proposed Kuching LRT project and hydrogen bus services and divert resources to developing basic amenities.

“We believe that the poor and the underprivileged in Sarawak will, within three years, see and feel the difference between a PSB government and the BN and GPS governments of the last 60 years. It is our mission to make that difference.”

He said PSB would field candidates of all races in all 65 constituencies.

Political analyst Arnold Puyok of Universiti Malaysia Sarawak said GPS should not take PSB lightly although its resources, networks and machinery would give it a huge advantage.

“In some areas, especially the Dayak areas, there is dissatisfaction with GPS,” he said, referring to issues of development, native customary rights land and representation in government.

“It is worth noting that GPS is already going to the ground to sell the idea that it is here to stay and can develop the state.”

He said the ruling coalition’s achievement in getting Petronas to pay the sales tax on petroleum and its position in the federal government would benefit it at the polls.

Arnold said PSB faced a challenge in uniting leaders and members coming from parties with different ideologies.

“Another challenge is that in Sabah and Sarawak, a new party is often seen as a way for political elites to survive.

“PSB needs to be seen as a fresh, progressive party and not just a party for old guards.”

A senior PBB leader told FMT his party believed PSB would contest all seats and would not be working with Pakatan Harapan because of animosity with former PKR leaders.

“Anwar Ibrahim (PKR president) will not want to work with Baru, and that means Sarawak PKR chairman Larry Sng won’t work with Baru either.

“I doubt that DAP, which is strong in Chinese areas, will want to make way for PSB’s Chinese leaders,” he said.

He noted that PKR and DAP could not even work together in the last general election.

“I just don’t see them compromising to accommodate PSB or vice-versa and this split will benefit GPS.”

He said this could make for a risky situation for top PSB leaders like Wong and Baru. Nearly half of the voters in Wong’s Bawang Assan constituency are Iban, who typically gravitate towards PBB, and Baru won the Ba’Kelalan state seat by little more than 500 votes.

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