Spotlight shines on GPS as kingmaker

In just five years since its formation in 2018, the GPS led by Premier Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Abang Johari Tun Openg has played an important role in deciding the Prime Minister of Malaysia on three occasions in 2020, 2021 and 2022. – Bernama photo

OF late, Sarawak has been in the country’s political spotlight because of the major role played by a coalition of local parties known as Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS).

In just five years since its formation in 2018, the GPS led by Premier Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Abang Johari Tun Openg has played an important role in deciding the Prime Minister of Malaysia on three occasions in 2020, 2021 and 2022.

The GPS with a significant number of its members of parliament secured majority support for the eighth prime minister Tan Sri Muhiyiddin Yassin on March 1, 2020 following a political crisis, the ninth prime minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaacob on August 21, 2011 due to another political crisis, and the 10th prime minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim since November 22, 2020.

For the first time since the formation of Malaysia 60 years ago, a Sarawakian has been appointed as the country’s Deputy Prime Minister in the person of Petra Jaya MP Dato Sri Fadillah Yusof from GPS.

Sarawak also became the first and only state in Malaysia to use the term ‘Premier’ for its head of government, after the term ‘Chief Minister’ was restyled to ‘Premier’ effective 1 March 2022 following an amendment to the State Constitution which also saw the new terms Deputy Premier and Deputy Minister also come into effect.

Formed on June 12 in 2018, GPS consists of four component parts; namely Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB), Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP), Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) and Progressive Democratic Party (PDP).

These four parties were formerly part of Barisan Nasional (BN) which chose to form a new alliance called GPS after BN’s defeat in the 2018 general election.

A political analyst, Dato Peter Minos said that the development of GPS proved to be a very smart decision so far.

He pointed out that when the GPS parties used to be in BN, they had to follow the line set by the BN federal government which was sometimes fine but there were times when these parties had no choice but to put up with things that were not right.

“GPS came about because of Sarawak’s need to speak up and stop being subservient to Kuala Lumpur. Sarawak needs a voice, a free one.

“Sarawak wants its own stance on many things…such as returning its power under the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63), Petronas paying more and seeking additional development funds from the federal and others. That’s the basic idea behind GPS – friendly to the federal government but not to be controlled and oppressed,” he said.

According to him, the name and logo of GPS is known throughout the country and its significant role is recognized by other political blocs.

“Sarawakians can rely on GPS for development and conservation in Sarawak. The federal government, sometimes weak and divided, needs GPS in its development. As of now, without GPS, the Unity Government in Kuala Lumpur is shaky and could be torn apart by internal strife. That’s why GPS has been and always has been courted. GPS is needed and respected,” he added.

He also pointed out that the GPS in its current position can be said to have real strength and bargaining power, and whoever heads the federal government should respect and treat the GPS well.

“As long as the people of Sarawak support and empower GPS, Sarawak’s interests will be safe and protected. GPS is good, strong and united because it is based on the basic ideology, ideas and principles of truly fighting and struggling for Sarawak as a whole and helping all Sarawakians regardless of race, religion and culture.

“Also, it is free from the Peninsula political disease of politicization using racial and religious issues. That is why I think GPS will last and do great wonders for Sarawak and its people,” he added.

Sylvia Koh, a senior analyst from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) Singapore, in an analysis of the GE15 results, said Sarawak’s regionalism has increased which has allowed local parties promoting regionalist agendas to win more seats in the state assembly and parliament.

According to him, GE15 seems to have strengthened this trend, as GPS secured 23 seats, forming the third largest coalition in the current Unity Government.

He also noted that GPS, which already dominates the State Legislative Assembly with 76 out of 82 seats, won on a ‘Sarawak First’ platform.

“Sarawak, along with Sabah, have special rights within the Malaysian Federation because they are both Malaya’s partners in nation building. The terms of these rights and partnerships are set out in the Malaysia Agreement of 1963 (MA63).

“The current effort to restore Sarawak’s autonomy stems from the gradual erosion of its special rights under decades of dominant Barisan Nasional (BN) rule, which consolidated power with the central government,” he said in an analysis published on the university’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) website.

Koh, who is a senior analyst at the Malaysia Program at RSIS, said that while Sarawak’s parties were largely ethnic-based, ethnic politics were not featured as openly in the state as in Peninsular Malaysia.

He also noted that GPS’s predecessor, Sarawak BN, moved towards regionalism after the late Pehin Sri Adenan Satem became the Chief Minister in 2014.

According to him, the late Adenan switched to a populist strategy aimed at distancing the coalition from BN at the federal level and shedding its corrupt image.

“Regionalism has been the main electoral platform of the GPS to date, with other local parties following suit,” he added.

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