KUCHING – If it were not for the COVID-19 pandemic, the year 2020 could be marked as a state election year for Sarawak.
The disease, which came to be noticed at the end of 2019 after an outbreak in Wuhan Province in China, hit Malaysia hard by March and kept Sarawak almost to a standstill for three months from the beginning of the month as the State Government’s attention was very much focused on easing the predicament of the people.
“Actually we wanted the 12th state election to be called earlier, but decided to withhold as we love the people (to protect them from COVID-19) more than the election,” said Sarawak Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg at an event in Miri on Dec 15.
Sarawak’s 12th state election was the hottest topic discussed by the people the entire length and breadth of the Land of Hornbills the last two years, as the day to the end of its 11th Legislative Assembly drew closer.
The five-year term for the Assembly commenced on June 8, 2016 after the end of the 11th state election, which had seen Barisan Nasional (BN) Sarawak, led by the then Chief Minister, the late Tan Sri Adenan Satem sweep through with a landslide victory by capturing 72 out of the 82 seats at stake.
Reclaiming Sarawak’s rights as enshrined in the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63) was among the major war cries intensively employed during the last state election campaign period as every participating party attempted to drum up support for their causes by exploiting the issue.
Voices calling for the reinstatement of Sarawak’s rights became louder ever since and starting with Adenan at the helm, the State Government took up the task to negotiate for the return of these rights from the Federal Government, following a unanimous endorsement from the State Assembly.
Following the passing of Adenan in January 2017, Abang Johari took over as the sixth Chief Minister of Sarawak and he brought the State Government to shift the gear further up towards closing in to get the rights back.
The Sarawak government might have suffered some setbacks after the 14th General Election in 2018, when the Pakatan Harapan coalition took over power at the Federal level leaving Sarawak to become an opposition state, but that did not dampen their spirit to fight for the State’s rights.
Instead of staying on with BN, Sarawak’s four ruling parties – Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB), Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP), Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) and Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) left the coalition to form their own state coalition that they called Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) in 2018 to continue with their cause.
One of the rights that they had insisted on was the enforcement of the State Sales Tax Ordinance 1998 on Petronas and the State started the year 2020 by initiating legal proceedings at the Kuching High Court to demand the national oil company to settle the tax payment.
However, following the change of the Federal Government by the end of February, where the Pakatan Harapan government fell after just 22 months in power and was replaced by the Perikatan Nasional coalition and allied parties, things changed for the better as Sarawak and Petronas agreed to resolve the matter and eventually signed a commercial settlement agreement on Dec 7.
The signing of the agreement marked another milestone for the GPS government in moving closer to getting back Sarawak rights under the MA63, as it had offered an avenue for the State to intensify its involvement in the exploration and production of oil and gas in Sarawak.
In spite of being curtailed by the pandemic, Sarawak still managed to draw in foreign direct investments (FDIs) as the UOB Financial Research and Markets reported that RM15.8 billion worth of FDIs were recorded in the first nine months of 2020 in Sarawak.
These successes, as well as the success to contain the spread of COVID-19 and to ease the burden of the people in the State during the Movement Control Order (MCO) will likely inject confidence for GPS to enter 2021 as well as prepare for the 12th State Election, which definitely is going to be held next year, as it must be held on or before Aug 7.
COVID-19 statistics for Sarawak (as of Dec 23) were cumulative cases at 1,094 with 19 deaths while the figures at the national level were total cases at 98,737 and the death toll at 444.