KUCHING: The dust has settled on the Sarawak elections, and even without full results, the casualties are clear: Pakatan Harapan are the biggest losers.
Today’s crushing defeat to Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) follows the demoralising results in Melaka last month. The coalition had come to power in Melaka three years earlier with 15 seats. This time they won only five.
In Sarawak, PH was never expected to defeat the ruling coalition of GPS but the huge losses today were unexpected. DAP’s losses in the strongholds of Kota Sentosa, Pujut, Pelawan and Bukit Assek means they have lost significant ground in the country’s biggest state.
PKR, which contested 28 seats, saw its losing streak continue. As in Melaka, the party failed to win a single seat. Amanah, too, crashed and burned though this was to be expected.
Naturally, fingers will be pointed, and reasons found for PH’s defeat, such as Covid-19 concerns, on top of costly air tickets and the holding of elections before the implementation of Undi18 (the lowered voting age of 18).
While voter turnout was much lower than the 70% in 2016, the issues that cost PH, particularly DAP, were those that ironically can be traced back to its biggest victory at the 2018 general election.
These issues include the PH-controlled federal government’s cancellation of infrastructure projects in a state that is still very much underdeveloped, broken promises of the coalition’s manifesto, and its track record in its 22 months in power.
In coffee shops and on the street, many spoke of these broken promises and the faith they had lost in the federal opposition.
Some have also not forgotten the claim by former finance minister Lim Guan Eng of DAP that Sarawak would go bankrupt in three years if GPS continued to run the state.
It certainly did not help PH’s cause that former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s recently launched autobiography opened up “old wounds” and gave a reminder of the coalition’s time in power.
To their credit, Sarawak PH, led by Chong Chieng Jen tried to fend off these concerns, holding press conferences every day.
Clearly, however, it was not enough. The damage had been done. Even its offensive tactics of linking GPS to PAS and Umno or the state government’s use of reserves for big projects did not appear to gain traction.
It would appear that, like in Melaka, Sarawak voters were more focused on bread and butter issues.
In the aftermath of the Melaka elections, there were calls for PH chairman Anwar Ibrahim to step down. It would be surprising if such calls were not heard again after this, especially with the 15th general election expected sooner rather than later.
While many observers have said a change of leadership in PH is unlikely before GE15, it is certain that the coalition will need to do some soul searching if it wants to capture power in Putrajaya again.