Bersatu has more to lose with push into Sarawak, say analysts
Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin arrives for a special meeting with state and federal civil servants in Kuching April 1, 2021. — Picture courtesy of Public Communication Unit Sarawak (Ukas)

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KUALA LUMPUR, April 26 — Political analysts are unconvinced that Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia will follow through with a recent leader’s claim that it would contest in Sarawak in the 15th general election (GE15).

This was after Datuk Zuraida Kamaruddin suggested that Bersatu might contest in Sarawak under the banner of the allied Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS).

GPS bristled at her remarks and analysts told Malay Mail that Bersatu, which counts on GPS to prop up the Perikatan Nasional coalition, was unlikely to follow through for fear of upsetting the key ally.

The experts said that if Bersatu were to contest in Sarawak, this would only be if GPS made special allowances for the PN lynchpin to defend two federal seats that it currently holds — Saratok and Puncak Borneo — by way of party hopping.

Anis Anwar Suhaimi, a senior researcher at think tank O2 Malaysia, told Malay Mail there would be significant overlap between Bersatu and GPS parties if both contested as they share a common appeal to native Bumiputeras.

He said allowing Bersatu to contest in Sarawak would also erode the barrier that GPS, formerly Sarawak Barisan Nasional, used previously to keep Umno out of the state.

Anis was also unconvinced that Bersatu would have significant success from contesting in Sarawak, noting that it still lacked a grassroots network and brand recognition there.

“Bersatu’s intention to contest its logo in the Sarawak state election can be described as a hasty attempt given that the party itself is still not quite mature in Sarawak. Even during the Sabah state election, Bersatu did not use its logo but used the popularity of the Perikatan Nasional logo instead.

“Hence, the winning chances for Bersatu should it use its logo during the Sarawak election is not entirely convincing,” Anis added.

Anis added that Bersatu would have to depend on GPS to have any success in Sarawak, which he concluded was unlikely as this would expose the Sarawak coalition to accusations of opening up the state to a “foreign” party.

However, he did not rule out the possibility of Bersatu contesting indirectly in Sarawak but said GPS would likely extract some concessions for its state government in return.

“GPS has a good chance of winning the state election with more style. Therefore, if political cooperation with Bersatu is done, the interchange between the two parties must be clear in terms, while also considering the interests of the state and prioritising the wellbeing of the Sarawak people,” he added.

Professor Jeniri Amir, a senior fellow with the National Professors Council, said Bersatu contesting in any significant fashion in Sarawak would be a fruitless endeavour.

Jeniri said any candidate Bersatu fielded would be less competitive than one from GPS other than for the constituencies already in its stable, and that it would be more beneficial for the party to support GPS to ensure it won big.

However, he predicted that Bersatu would not push the issue as this would put it on a collision course with GPS that has already declared its intention to contest all Sarawak seats.

Antagonising GPS would jeopardise the informal agreement for it to back the PN administration, which he noted GPS was free to withdraw at any time as it was not a direct member of the federal coalition.

“GPS supported Bersatu or PN in March 2020 because it wanted to ensure political stability at the national level.

“At the state level, based on the stand taken by GPS thus far, I strongly believe that GPS is not going to give way or to give any seats to Bersatu,” he said.

A potential Bersatu incursion into Sarawak would also be a zero-sum game in that at least one of the GPS parties would have to lose its spot, which Jeniri said was not going to happen.

Citing Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s remarks during his visit to Sarawak, Jeniri said the Bersatu president’s declaration that he would work to ensure GPS won the state election was already acknowledgment of the coalition’s influence in the state.

On April 2, Muhyiddin pledged to personally help GPS retain power in the coming state election and held up the coalition’s support of PN at the federal level as a model example of positive political cooperation.

Jeniri said this was already a win-win formula and that it would be in Bersatu’s interest to back GPS in Sarawak so that it could retain Putrajaya.

Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) associate professor Lee Kuok predicted a “zero per cent” that GPS would accommodate Bersatu in negotiations for Sarawak seats.

“GPS wouldn’t tolerate Bersatu in that. It’s just like Umno. During BN’s time it was not allowed to enter Sarawak. But as Bersatu already entered Sarawak during Pakatan Harapan’s (PH) time, one cannot say that Bersatu cannot enter Sarawak, but that there is no room for them in Sarawak.

“I believe the sentiment will be exactly as welcoming frogs, ” he said, referring to the term used to label party hoppers.

“Also, did Zuraida discuss with anyone from Sarawak before saying that? I guess that must be based on the ‘Malaya-centric’ intriguing mentality where they think they can do whatever they feel they like. She should be more concerned with her own seat,” Lee, whose research interest includes political communication and audience study, told Malay Mail.