By Chew Lip Song
WITH 18 Members of Parliament, Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) has twice played a key role in deciding who becomes Malaysia’s Prime Minister since Feb 2020. This includes the elevation of Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob as the country’s ninth PM in Istana Negara today.
While the focus has now shifted to who in Bersatu Ismail will appoint as his deputy, speculation is rife that “kingmaker” GPS may also be rewarded with one of the DPM’s post for sticking with Perikatan Nasional.
The speculation gained credence when it emerged that GPS’ 18 MPs were the last to submit written declaration of support to Istana Negara on who they each want to replace Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, who resigned as PM on Monday.
The Yang Di-Pertuan Agong had asked that each of the country’s 220 MPs submit in writing who their preferred choice of PM was by 4pm on Wednesday.
It is said that GPS MPs held on to their declaration of support until the eleventh hour following intense horse-trading with the two leading contenders for the PM’s post – Ismail Sabri and Opposition head Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.
Speculation is rife that that GPS had demanded for a DPM’s post.
This gained further traction when GPS chairman and Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Openg, when approached by reporters after Wednesday’s deadline, provided cryptic answers on who the coalition had backed as PM.
The CM and several key GPS leaders were quoted as saying that they would leave the decision to the King despite being pressed to reveal the identity of their preferred PM.
Eventually, it emerged that GPS had indeed supported Ismail Sabri as its lawmakers were individually summoned to an audience with the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong to verify that they had voluntarily backed PN’s choice.
Traditionally, Malaysia has only one DPM, but East Malaysians have in recent years demanded greater representation in Putrajaya in the spirit of MA63. Sarawak has 31 MPs while Sabah has 25. With Ismail Sabri’s government hanging on to a four-seat majority in the Dewan Rakyat, GPS has leverage over Putrajaya.
GPS has earlier come under fire for refusing to support Warisan president and fellow East Malaysian Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal, a potential PM candidate bandied about by the opposition.
Having a DPM’s post for the first time would bolster GPS’ standing, as Abang Johari seeks his first mandate in the state polls, which would be held after Feb 2 next year, but could be brought forward if the Covid-19 pandemic improves.
Abang Johari was sworn in as CM in January 2017 following the sudden death of his hugely-popular predecessor Tan Sri Adenan Satem. The current CM has not been tested in the polls, as the state elections, due to be held latest by this month, was postponed due to the pandemic.
In March 2020, GPS also played a key role in Muhyiddin’s elevation after the coalition threw its backing for PN, which ousted Pakatan Harapan, with a razor-thin majority.
Subsequently, GPS was rewarded with four full Minister’s post, including Datuk Seri Fadillah Yusof, who was made Senior Works Minister.
The other three Cabinet members in the previous government were Datuk Seri Alexander Nanta Linggi (Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs), Datuk Seri Nancy Shukri (Tourism) and Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Jaafar (Entrepreneur Development and Co-operative).
Fadillah, a senior vice-president in Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB) is said to be a main contender for the DPM’s post should GPS be offered one. Also in the running is GPS secretary-general, Nanta, a six-term Kapit MP.