By John Isaac
PARTI Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) chief Tan Sri James Masing may be confident that Dayak voters will continue to back his Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) coalition when Sarawak eventually holds its state election, but state opposition leaders are unimpressed, saying that Masing should not “brag too confidently”.
“Masing (above) should not just confidently brag about the issue when he and GPS were part of the ruling coalition since the formation of Malaysia and we are at the current state of underdevelopment due to long-term neglect under the administration, which GPS has been part of for more than 50 years.
“Many of the violations of our rights protected under the Malaysian Agreement 1963 also occurred during the rule of GPS or BN Sarawak at that time,” Bandar Kuching MP Dr Kelvin Yii told Malaysiakini.
Covid-19 has exposed the long-term neglect of healthcare systems in Sarawak, especially in the rural areas, Yii said, adding that up to 45 percent of rural clinics do not have a doctor and many do not have basic amenities like clean water or electricity.
“He cannot in his right mind lay the blame of Sarawak’s underdevelopment on Pakatan Harapan, which was only in federal power for about two years. Much was also promised by the then BN Sarawak government to the people over the many years, and many of those promises were also broken, putting us in the state that we are in right now,” Dr Yii said.
Earlier in the week, Masing told the media he was confident that the Dayak were going to back GPS once the next Sarawak state election is called.
The last state election was held on May 7, 2016, and barring any Covid-19-related emergency, the election would be held before the end of this year.
Masing, in his comments, acknowledged that the contest for the Dayak vote had become keener but said he was not perturbed as the Dayak know which party can best look after their interests.
He went on to say that GPS had proven itself, unlike Harapan, which scrapped three bridge projects when it was in power. The projects have now been taken over by the Sarawak government.
The projects are the Batang Lupar Bridge, Batang Igan Bridge and Batang Rambungan Bridge, which together cost RM1.2 billion.
“To me, the opposition is only talking. Just like they did before the 14th general election. Harapan talked so much and made too many promises, but it could only survive for 22 months because the coalition could not deliver on its promises,” Masing said.
Sarawak PKR Women’s chief Agnes Padan claimed that Masing was counting on misinformation to win the election.
“Sarawak’s healthcare is in shambles, but many Dayak are told otherwise.
“As usual, before elections, we can see projects given to the ketua kampung and penghulu to secure their support. During elections, cash is king, and GPS is betting on the same old modus operandi to win the coming Sarawak state and general elections,” she said.
Agnes added that it remained to be seen how the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic would influence voters, especially in rural areas like her home base of Lawas, located six hours away from the nearest hospital.
She conceded that Sarawak PKR had some rebuilding to do to repeat the success shown in GE14 when the party had its strongest showing in winning four parliamentary seats, only to see three of those MPs – Willie Mongin, Ali Biju, and Baru Bian – defect from the party.
“PKR will do better in the coming Sarawak and general elections. We have credible candidates to replace those who have left and betrayed the party,” she said.
Baru Bian himself is now in the relatively new Parti Sarawak Bersatu (PSB) but thinks that Masing is being overconfident if he believes he will steamroll to victory.
“I can only say that I trust in the maturity of our people now. They know who would be the best leaders and party to represent them.
“BN/GPS had been there for the last 57 years and the people know if they still can be trusted or not. The facts and records are there for all to see,” Baru Bian said in a brief text message.
Dr Yii said that under Harapan, there were systemic changes in the federal budget to increase general allocations to Sarawak to address some of the long-standing underdevelopment matters in the state.
“In Budget 2020 under Harapan, the general development expenditure for Sarawak was RM 4.47 billion, which was about 14.8 percent of total development funds, the second-highest after Sabah.
“On top of that, Harapan increased the total financial grant to Sarawak as mentioned in MA63 (Malaysian Agreement 1963) to RM1.3 billion, which was the biggest in the whole country,” he said.
He added that years of neglect could not be resolved in just a single budget.
“Masing is part of an old generation of leaders who have been in power for so long and who allowed all kinds of inherent injustices due to alleged cronyism and corruption to go on, resulting in our underdevelopment,” he claimed.
“The question needs to be asked – if really GPS knows how to take care of the Dayak, why are they still one of the poorest communities in the state as a whole?”
Dr Yii said that with the rise of modern technology and urbanisation, the Dayak community is becoming more aware of the political happenings in the country.
He said they are more than competent to decide for themselves policies that are fair and equitable to the whole community, rather than policies that would only benefit the elites but leave the majority of people stuck in poor conditions.
“There has been a swing of votes even among the Dayak community in the last general election. Even though some of those candidates have defected, it is a clear trend of more Dayak voters realising their role and power to instil change,” he added.
Dr Yii pointed out that due to the Undi18 amendments to lower the voting age, younger people would have a bigger say in the trajectory of the state and country.
“They may reject patronage politics and push for proper reforms, anti-corruption, and good governance measures that are so important for the state of Sarawak,” he said.