It was Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad who established Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) chapters in Sabah and Sarawak in 2019.
Mahathir was the powerful Bersatu chairman then. Here was a man who will not hesitate to exert his power, even if it means antagonising his coalition partners in the process.
Many who had crossed paths with the two-time prime minister only knew too well that oft-times, Mahathir listens to no one but himself.
This was the case when he allowed Bersatu to set up its Sarawak and Sabah chapters, much to the chagrin of Pakatan Harapan partners in the two Borneo territories.
In the case of Sabah, Mahathir allowed former Umno lawmakers in Sabah led by Datuk Hajiji Noor to join Bersatu en masse and later lead its Sabah chapter.
I can recall clearly how Parti Warisan Sabah president Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal strongly objected to Bersatu’s move, reminding Mahathir of the tacit understanding before GE14 that Bersatu would not be entering Sabah because of the presence of Parti Warisan.
Though not cast in stone, there was a deal, a pact or an understanding struck between the two parties. And that, like a gentleman’s agreement though not legally binding, must be honoured.
Unfortunately, politics sway with the times and politicians are not particularly known to be honourable people. An unwritten pact between two vagrants on the street probably carries more weight and is more likely to be honoured.
This Mahathir-Shafie episode in 2019 makes for an interesting study of the case now before Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) and Bersatu in Sarawak. It is about making promises and honouring a gentleman’s agreement.
On Bersatu’s purported intention to contest in Sarawak in the coming elections, Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) president Tan Sri Dr James Masing has this reminder for Bersatu.
On March 31, Masing told Astro Awani that “Bersatu has already assured GPS that it will not contest in the next Sarawak state election or the 15th general election”.
“Bersatu also gave its assurance not to contest in Sarawak in the state elections or the general election, and this guarantee was given by Perikatan Nasional (PN) last year.
“We (GPS) hope they stand firm to their promise,” Masing said.
The Sarawak deputy chief minister also said that if Bersatu failed to live up to its promise, GPS will defend its rights without compromise.
Here we go again. So Masing remembers Bersatu’s promise and he spoke up on the matter. Isn’t it funny that none of Masing’s colleagues brought it up? Or did they?
Even Bersatu president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin was probably unaware of any promises, if indeed one has been made. It is also possible that at the height of the Sheraton putsch 13 months ago, Muhyiddin could have made many concessions in order to secure GPS’ support for his new PN government.
On April 2 in Kuching, Muhyiddin made no mention of any such understanding but said “it is now all up to the leadership of GPS to determine whether Bersatu should nominate its candidate in the 12th Sarawak election”.
However, the prime minister wisely did not insist that his party be given seats to contest, saying that “what is important is that we want to ensure a big win for GPS in Sarawak”.
It was Mahathir who established the Bersatu chapter in Sarawak. Mahathir’s objective then was probably to use Bersatu to take on PBB. Now, it is Muhyiddin in charge and PBB is an ally in the PN government.
Bersatu members in Sarawak who have never taken part in any election must find the sudden change of political realignment confusing and complicated.
I have not met a single leader of Sarawak Bersatu yet and I do not even know the name of its Sarawak chairman. I am not sure whether the party has suitable candidates to contest the polls. But I could be wrong.
However, I doubt any of the GPS components will give way to Bersatu in any seats. That being the most likely case, there are two things Sarawak Bersatu can do.
One, adhere to the instructions of their party leaders and support GPS at the polls. Keep the faith that some of their state leaders will be rewarded with other appointments.
Two, run rogue and go for a “free for all” battle. For the politically ambitious and impatient, there is little meaning in joining politics if they do not partake in electoral contests.
This is a personal decision for every individual leader or member in Bersatu to make.
But one important thing for all political aspirants to remember is this: This is a free country. Every eligible citizen is free to seek elective office. No one has any right to stop you from doing so.
With so many parties now, I foresee multi-cornered contests in every seat in the coming polls.
Well, at times, the more the merrier, I suppose.
The views expressed here are those of the columnist and do not necessarily represent the views of New Sarawak Tribune.