History didn’t favour us; it’s now or never

Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) will be officially launched on Jan 19. Quite naturally, many eyes will be trained on the event to see what actually will happen – beyond just unveiling the coalition’s logo today, of course.

You can bet the GPS people are excited about the whole thing because to them it will be the beginning of a new era for the state of Sarawak.

GPS is on the way to writing itself into a Sarawak record with a foreward that should reveal the hopes and aspirations of a people whose rights have been eroded over a period of more than half a century since Sept 16 1963.

GPS has vowed to seek a return of those rights. In this, Sarawakians are generally happy because they have seen how the coalition can actually do what it must do if it so wants.

Today GPS is in a position that it did not enjoy before last May 9 when Barisan Nasional (BN) was still in power and Umno being the dominant party called the shots.

Then came May 9, BN fell, and Umno as well. PH captured Putrajaya and that left Sarawak BN somewhat in a quandary.

Some said Sarawak BN had wanted to join the new government led by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. The fact was, not once did the leaders of the state BN spoke of anything beyond cooperation and being PH-friendly.

Then on June 12, Chief Minister and PBB president Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg announced that PBB, SUPP, PRS and PDP, the four state BN component parties, had decided to abandon BN to form GPS.

Shocked detractors who had wanted to see the leaders of PBB, PRS, SUPP and PDP begging on bended knees before PH leaders to be made part of the new federal government cried conspiracy. They said GPS was nothing more than an old BN wine in a new bottle.

The problem was these same people refused to see the old BN-Umno wine in the PH bottle.

Then GPS said something that sent shivers down the spine of their detractors – that it’s a party of Sarawakians for Sarawakians by Sarawakians; that it was its own master; that it now took it upon itself to champion the cause of Sarawakians; and that none could do it better than this all-Sarawakian party.

It got the detractors cursing. The worst of them took to slandering the Chief Minister and making personal attacks against him and members of his state Cabinet for doing “too little too late”.

Some even said the state BN in its time had done “nothing” all those years!

People forget because they choose to forget. People are blind to the developments around them because they choose not to see.

They forgot they went through university on government scholarships. In fact, they forgot they got a place in the university at all.

Of course, they forgot those before them, for all sorts of reasons, didn’t have the chance to even step through any university’s gate, let alone study in one.

Yet these universities, the roads, the bridges, the street lights, the housing estates, the scholarships, job opportunities, businesses and industries didn’t just happen by accident.

Many screamed, why now? Why not 50 years ago? Why wait until the wells have gone near dry and the forests have receded far into the horizon?

Many reasons why. For one, the political environment from the beginning was far from conducive to a politics for just Sarawakians.

How could it be conducive when too few Sarawakians knew what actually was developing? The majority just did not know what was going on in 1963 or the years leading to Sept 16 1963.

It’s easy to point finger but you were not even born in 1963. Or if you were born in 1955 like me, you would be too young to know unless you asked around, and the right people at that.

I spent many nights with my late grandfather talking about those years and how the British representatives visited him in his longhouse in Kranggas, Pantu near Sri Aman, or Simanggang then.

They came to ask him to come down with them to Sarawak, which is Kuching today, to sit in the Council Negri.

My grandfather refused. How could he accept? Yes, he had a 15-horsepower Johnson outboard engine, a rice mill, rice grains that could bring down the attic if not for the belian columns and cantilevers that were whole tree trunks, and tons of black pepper.

His problem was he never went to school, hardly ever went to see the outside world beyond Pantu, and didn’t know how to use a pair of slippers.

My grandfather was a giant of a man, with thick hairs on his chest, shoulders and the upper part of his back. He was rarely seen wearing any shirt because most of the time he was sweating, so when the British representatives gave him a three-piece suit and a pair of leather shoes he said the Council Negri sounded like a place that would kill him.

You see, in the years before 1963 and many years after that, most Sarawakians were like my grandfather, which was why we were betrayed and sold out by the British and Malayans who knew better and how.

No, the leaders could not do much about MA63, about those eroded rights that GPS is trying to get back now because they would not be able to muster the support of Sarawakians who were in the majority illiterate and ignorant.

What John F Kennedy said to the Americans in his 14-minute 1961 address during the Cold War applies to Sarawakians today: Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, but Sarawakians have every chance to right all the wrongs after just over half a decade because the political environment today favours us.

GPS’ Sarawak’s agenda is our golden chance to build our own Rome.