‘Gigit jari saja’? Sabah an opposition state again

It was a short lived relationship: Warisan being on the outside of Pakatan Harapan (PH) but supporting the ruling coalition.

The relationship seemed just right then and Sabah was rewarded with several federal ministerial positions.

Following the footsteps of Warisan, Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) is now doing the same by being on the outside of Perikatan Nasional but supporting the ruling coalition.

For the support given to Perikatan, GPS has been rewarded with ministerial positions whereas the ruling party in Sabah did not get any.

No one is really sure what “not part of” but “support” means. Does it mean the supporting bloc will tow the line as part of collective decisions at Cabinet level or have the right to reject policies which are not in line with its party stand or ideology?

For example if PAS wants to revive RUU355, will GPS Sarawak have to toe the line?

At best it’s a loose coalition for the purpose of forming a government. What kind of government is still open to speculation as PN does not have a manifesto or the mandate from the majority of voters in GE14.

By supporting the new federal coalition, Sarawak is now in bed with a government consisting of Umno and PAS. It’s a strange situation as Sarawak was always determined to shut its doors to Umno. Can the Sarawak government deny Umno’s entry into the state now as it supports Perikatan Nasional?

PAS is already established in Sarawak and going by the current situation, it’s only a matter of time before Umno spreads its wings to Sarawak. PPBM did the same thing by coming to Sabah despite Warisan’s objection.

Sabah is used to being in the opposition. Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) formed the state government after winning the 1985 state elections and governed Sabah from 1985 to 1994.

Its ironic that Muhyiddin Yassin and Shafie Apdal were the ones who triggered the downfall of former prime minister Najib Razak but have now ended up in different camps.

Assuming that PN will rule the country till the next general election, the Sabah government has to deal with new faces and new policies in Putrajaya, including a battered economy brought on by Covid-19 which is affecting its tourism industry.

State oil royalty will also be reduced significantly if the oil price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia holds.

With former federal ministers from Sabah joining the unemployment line, and with disgruntled Warisan supporters yet to be rewarded after two years in power, there will be more pressures on the Warisan leadership.

Maximus Ongkili from PBS is back in the government looking after Sabah and Sarawak affairs but is there a glimmer of hope for the rights of Sabah and Sarawak as in the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63)?

So far, Sabah and Sarawak have not been able to get the 20% oil royalty promised by the PH government.

The 20% oil royalty issue and 40% tax revenue returns are further away from Sabah’s grasp now. We should not expect that under the PN government things will be different.

Many Sabahans believe that Ongkili will probably be just a seat warmer going through the motions. When PBS was in the opposition and also during its time in power with the BN, there was little achieved in terms of Sabah’s rights.

The issue of illegal immigrants, oil royalty and state autonomy are still issues brought forward from yesteryears. “Kita gigit jari sahaja” would be the resounding sound.

Petronas has already said it is unable to pay an increase in oil royalty, and the federal government will still be dependent on Petronas to shore up its depleted treasury funds.

In 2018, on top of the normal dividends, Petronas had to declare a special dividend of RM30 billion to ease the financial burden of the federal government.

One of the vocal “fighters” for Sabah rights, Jeffrey Kitingan, is now a deputy minister reporting to Nancy Shukri who is the new minister of tourism, arts and culture. Jeffrey’s post is very junior and also insignificant.

The previous tourism minister, Mohamaddin Ketapi, from Sabah, was a full minister. Again, we should not expect any miracle from Jeffrey as the world is still struggling from the fallout of Covid-19 and travel is far from the minds of many people.

He could just be another seat warmer, traveling to far away places to promote tourism; Sabah may then be further from his mind.

Some will say it is better to work from the inside of the Cabinet rather than the outside. The downside of it is that you have to work with consensus at federal level and you won’t be able to make a firm stand on MA63 issues.

Let’s face it, with the volatile Bursa Malaysia, pressure on the ringgit, and the country buffeted by the economic storms caused by external factors, there is little money to be distributed among the states, what more oil royalties and return of tax collection under MA63.

What are the options for Sabah? I admire Shafie’s guts in pledging undivided support for Mahathir Mohamad. It reminds me of the 1985 headlines in the local newspapers with Mahathir declaring that the federal government would “sink or swim with Berjaya”, the ruling party then.

Will Shafie sink or swim with Mahathir? While Shafie’s stand is admirable, there are still many challenges for a young party. Could the remaining term of Warisan become a “winter of discontent” or a time where it consolidates its position, becomes resilient and delivers its mandate to the people of Sabah?

It’s partners at state level – PKR and DAP – face a similar predicament as they have been left out in the cold at the federal level.

This is a good time for Shafie to bring the best of Sabah’s “brains” together to chart its future direction and economic growth.

The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.