PM visits Sarawak tomorrow amid disquiet over “Allah” issue, shaky grip on Putrajaya

By Chew Lip Song

PRIME Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin is on a two-day official visit to Sarawak tomorrow (Apr 1), 10 days after a Sabah state visit, that came amid furor over the roiling “Allah” controversy that can cost his government crucial votes from the two East Malaysian states during a snap poll widely expected to be called this year.

Muhyiddin’s visit also come on the heels of Umno’s decision over the weekend to cut ties with his party Bersatu by the next general election, or even earlier.

His coalition Perikatan Nasional (PN), which seized power following the collapse of Pakatan Harapan in Feb 2020, is propped up mainly with the support of Gabungan Parti Sarawak’s (GPS) 19 MPs.

With Umno snubbing Bersatu come the next election, which can be called as early as August when the Emergency ends, Muhyiddin is expected to seek reassurance of GPS’ support during his visit. GPS now has the support of 22 MPs, including Independents, following several defections since the “Sheraton Move”.

Muhyiddin will have a four-eye meeting with Chief Minister and GPS chairman Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Abang Openg in Kuching on the first day of his visit. The PM is also scheduled to have luncheon with top state PN and GPS leaders on Apr 2.

The Prime Minister’s itinerary include a townhall session with the public, several meet-the-public sessions including one in Serian, and a visit to the Sarawak General Hospital in Kuching. Muhyiddin is also expected to announce allocations for developmental projects in Sarawak.

Analysts expect Muhyiddin to assuage Sarawak following the fallout from a recent KL High Court ruling that non-Muslims are allowed to use “Allah” in their material. The verdict to the case, which was filed by Melanau Christian, Jill Ireland in 2008, had been widely criticised by right-wing Muslim groups.

In a rare show of solidarity, 54 Sarawak and Sabah lawmakers from across the aisle issued a joint-statement urging Muhyiddin to instruct the Attorney-General to withdraw the appeal to the High Court verdict. This has not been done.

Muhyiddin is slowly losing his grip on power despite several key defections over the past few weeks, including from Julau MP Larry Sng and ex-PKR vice-president Datuk Dr Xavier Jayakumar, the latter a former minister. This follows several Umno MPs withdrawing their support for Muhyiddin.

The withdrawal of Umno’s support come the next general election means it’d be an open field during the polls and forces the Premier to be more reliant on GPS’ vote bank.