Politicians are the same all over. They promise to build bridges even when there are no rivers.— Nikita Khrushchev, premier of the Soviet Union
Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin in his official visit to Sarawak last week appeared to embrace a formula that served his predecessor Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak well.
That is: Give Sarawak what it wants.
Time and time again during the reign of the sixth prime minister, Najib always felt that he could count on the support from the Land of the Hornbills when the folk in Malaya turned against him.
While in his own hometown he was greeted with animosity, in Sarawak he was a cult hero.
This was to the extent that the late chief minister Pehin Sri Adenan Satem called him Najib Anak Razak — a homage to the premier, noting that he was one of us.
Unlike Najib’s predecessor turned successor Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Muhyiddin gets it.
He apparently knows that the key to securing support from Sarawak is saying the right things and ultimately, delivering on his promises.
Among the first words he uttered when speaking to Sarawakians at a function here in Kuching was that the reception he got was akin to returning to his own hometown.
“Today I am returning to my hometown, Kuching, Sarawak.
“It has been a while since I came to Sarawak. But I did not imagine that I would come back as the prime minister,” he said.
Then throughout the day, he stuck with the right note, agreeing with everything the state government has done through its administrative policies, particularly on digital economy.
This was worlds apart compared to when Dr Mahathir came here during the old Pakatan administration.
Muhyiddin, then surprised Sarawak calling it a region (wilayah) instead of a state.
While our friends in the opposition are trying hard to twist it right, left and centre — this is a big deal.
It was recognition for Sarawak as one of the three regions of Malaysia as enshrined in the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63).
“Sarawak is not a state; it is a wilayah (region).”
He then followed up by saying the Perikatan Nasional (PN) federal government acknowledged a proposal by the Sarawak government to amend Article 160(2) of the Federal Constitution on the definition of the phrase ‘Federation of Malaysia’.
“Yes, we acknowledge Sarawak as a region. However, for an amendment to be made to the Constitution, this government at present would not be able to do that without the majority support of the members of Parliament”.
Of course, after 58 years in the Malaysian federation and often feeling like getting the short end of the stick, Sarawakians are sceptical.
Time will tell whether the recognition for Sarawak to be known as a region was merely a political ploy or an honest gift to the people, in return for the support that Putrajaya enjoys.
Although 18 Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) MPs accounts for less than 10 percent of the Dewan Rakyat, in these trying times, you’ll need all your friends.
Just like Adenan assured Najib amid the political turbulence that the Barisan Nasional (BN) chairman had during this stint as prime minister, Abang Johari appears to be doing the same for Muhyiddin.
“Come hell or high water. We will be behind you — we do this not because we are afraid of you, but because it is the right thing to do,” Adenan said during Najib’s visit six years ago.
More or less the same thing last week.
GPS’ backing for Muhyiddin is rock solid and in turn, he must deliver two key things.
The first is expedite the return of eroded state rights under MA63, the Federal Constitution and the Intergovernmental Committee Report (IGC) 1962 — including making good on his promise that Sarawak will be known as a region.
Secondly is to reciprocate politically; whatever it takes, his party Bersatu and PN component PAS must not contest, be it openly or secretly in the upcoming state election.
Let GPS contest in all 82 state seats and if it comes to it, all 31 parliamentary seats.
The state government through GPS knows how to manage Sarawak best without any meddling by hidden hands from Putrajaya through its Malayan party representatives.
Let’s hope Muhyiddin’s visit last week will not be the last. Let’s hope he would emulate Najib and not Dr Mahathir.
The message from Sarawak is simple: Deliver and we’ll be eternally grateful.