BY TANIA LAM & SARAH HAFIZAH CHANDRA
BY TANIA LAM & SARAH HAFIZAH CHANDRA
Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB) will be holding the first in its series of mini conventions in Miri, with the theme of ‘Hak Sarawak Diutamakan, Pembangunan Diperkasakan’ (Sarawak Rights Prioritised, Development Empowered).
Following tomorrow’s convention in Miri for Sarawak’s northern region, three more conventions will be held, namely in Sibu, Betong and Kuching.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic and standard operating procedures (SOPs) in place, PBB — the backbone of the state’s ruling coalition Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) — has opted for four zonal conventions rather than its usual larger-scale
convention centralised in Kuching.
Deputy Chief Minister cum PBB deputy president Datuk Amar Awang Tengah Ali Hasan recently took some time from his busy schedule for an interview with New Sarawak Tribune to talk about the convention and matters pertaining to the upcoming state election.
New Sarawak Tribune: The convention will be held in four zones, starting with Miri. Why is this so?
Awang Tengah: Indeed, we had already planned to hold this convention in Kuching. Previously, we would gather all our members from all over Sarawak for a special convention in the city.
However, due to the Covid-19 pandemic and recovery movement control order (RMCO), we must adhere to the SOPs. Thus, we decided to have the conventions according to zones.
For the northern region, the invited delegates will be limited based on the capacity of the venue which is Meritz Hotel Miri. As we are only allowed to occupy 50 percent of the venue’s capacity, we are expecting about 800 to 900 participants only.
Who is expected to attend this convention?
The northern region convention involves 17 PBB branches.
Delegates will consist of PBB committee members including the Youth and Women wings and PBB elected representatives. We have also invited some veterans who
are party founders.
We have had to limit the number of participants due to the current circumstances. Perhaps we will invite the rest to the conventions in other zones as we must comply with the SOPs.
Some have interpreted the organisation of this special convention as a preparation for the coming state election.
What are your comments on this?
It is already known that the term of our State Legislative Assembly will end next year. As for when the election will be held, this is up to Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg to decide.
We in PBB are not only organising this event in preparation for the election but it is our practice to carry out such programmes so that PBB members and the community as a whole understand fully the government policies.
This convention will also strengthen bonds among our members. PBB is a big organisation, so we are like a big family.
This convention is a platform where leaders at the lower level can mingle with those from the upper level and exchange thoughts and views on how they can empower the party’s struggle.
What is the theme of this convention?
We have chosen ‘Hak Sarawak Diutamakan, Pembangunan Diperkasakan’ (Sarawak Rights Prioritised, Development Enhanced) as the theme for this convention.
What is the meaning behind the chosen theme?
Our theme captures the essence of our party’s and GPS’ mission of fighting for Sarawak’s rights as provided in MA63, and making Sarawak a developed state by 2030.
Our former chief minister, Pehin Sri Adenan Satem initiated the fight.
Abang Johari is now continuing the struggle to reclaim our rights under MA63 and make “Developing Sarawak into a high income state by 2030” our vision. He has introduced digital economy as a strategy to realise this vision.
To complement this strategy, we have to upgrade our road connectivity and all our basic facilities; the same goes for our sea and air connectivity.
Capitalising on this new platform of digital economy, we want to penetrate the international market as the domestic market is rather small and not economic.
Take China for example; it used to be a poor country in the 60’s, 70’s and even 80’s.
It then implemented strategic policies and focused on infrastructure development and today, it has become one of the world’s largest economic powers.
So, Abang Johari, in his aim to develop Sarawak is focusing on strategic sectors.
What are some of the programmes planned for Miri convention?
The convention is only for one day.
The delegates will be briefed on the rules, dos and don’ts of election including an introduction to the election machinery, structure and governance, roles and responsibilities of party agents in the election.
A paper on land administration in Sarawak relating to the rights of the people as well as a working paper on the direction of the oil and gas industry in Sarawak will be presented.
Another paper on strategic partnership with regard to the Regional Corridor Development Authority (Recoda) as a development catalyst, the roles of Highland Development Agency (HDA), Northern Region Development Agency (NRDA) and Upper Rajang Development Agency (URDA) will also be presented.
What are your hopes for participants in this convention?
My hope is that this convention will prepare and motivate party members to fight for the party’s cause and win the coming election.
Secondly, I hope that participants will understand the state government’s policies and programmes as well as political issues both at the national and state levels. I hope they will disseminate this information to the community at the grassroots level, especially among our party members.
In addition, I hope this convention will further enhance cooperation, unity and support for the leadership of our Chief Minister to continue leading Sarawak.
What are the strengths of Abang Johari’s leadership in terms of leading PBB as its president and bringing Sarawak forward?
Our Chief Minister can mix and socialise freely with anyone, be they old or young, just like Adenan before. This style of leadership brings him closer to all levels of the society. At the same time, he is able to gain inputs from various groups both formally and informally. He is very inclusive and visionary in his leadership.
What is always emphasised by Abang Johari in the context of party leadership?
Firstly, he always emphasises that we must stay united and avoid having factions. Party members must work together as a team. This is fundamental for the existence and strength of PBB.
Secondly, he wants our party members to work together with other GPS component party members and also with the community at large. They are the ones who will be the main driving force to support our Chief Minister in our fight for our rights as enshrined in the Constitution, IGC, and MA63.
Additionally, he wants our members to understand and disseminate the policies and programmes implemented by the government.
With all the changes in the current political landscape, what are the key challenges facing PBB and how does the party address these?
We have faced many challenges such as the Ming Court episode and recently, the change in the federal government from the Barisan Nasional (BN) to Pakatan Harapan (PH).
Further political changes occurred with the fall of the PH government and now we have the Perikatan Nasional (PN). Throughout all these changes, our party has become stronger and continues to play a significant role in the formation of the federal government under PN. We support the PN government but are not in coalition with the political parties in Semenanjung Malaysia.
Will PBB be contesting in 45 seats in the coming state election?
We have not decided on this matter yet. Our Chief Minister will discuss this with other component parties in GPS.
What is important is for us in GPS to win the next state election with a landslide victory.
To ensure victory in the state election, what are some of the criteria for candidates? Are there incumbents who will be stepping down or dropped?
Our members always accept the decisions made by the party’s leadership. This is one of the basic principles in PBB which have enabled us to become the backbone of our state government.
What are the criteria sought in new candidates?
We have our own way in PBB. Sometimes, there are incumbents who inform us of their intention not to contest. This makes it easier to identify new candidates.
Among the PBB members, we have many with leadership qualities so there is no problem in finding candidates.
Whoever is selected to be a candidate must embody the struggle of the party. Equally important is loyalty to the party’s leadership and struggle. The candidates must be able to work as a team.
Are many lobbying to place themselves in the list of choices by PBB’s leadership?
That is normal in every election. We normally study all aspects before we decide on candidacy.
In facing the coming state election, what are the lessons learnt from defeats in seats in the past general election?
In the last state election in 2016, all PBB candidates won.
In the last general election, PBB only lost one seat. We study the cause of the defeat and apply any lessons learnt for future elections.
If the State Legislative Assembly is dissolved tomorrow, how confident are you that GPS will be able to secure a big win?
We are confident that if the election is held at any time, we will, with the support of the people. GPS has a proven track record and the people know this. The people already know during the previous PH rule, many of their promises to Sarawak were not fulfilled such as the 20 percent oil and gas royalty and 50 percent of income tax collected in Sarawak to be returned to Sarawak, not to mention the numerous big projects that were cancelled.
Many assemblymen from the Democratic Action Party (DAP) and Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) have left their respective parties.
They see that our Chief Minister shows leadership in driving Sarawak’s development and looking after the well-being of the people.
The people can see that the various projects cancelled by PH before such as Jambatan Rambungan, Jambatan Kemena, and Jambatan Paloh recently are now being revived and implemented by the state government and are wholly funded by it.
The same goes for water and electricity projects; our Chief Minister is determined to ensure 100 percent coverage for the whole state and has allocated billions of ringgits to do so.
Besides this, Abang Johari has also established the Upper Rajang Development Agency (URDA), Northern Region Development Agency (NRDA), Highland Development Agency (HDA), Integrated Regional Samarahan Development Agency (IRSDA), and Sri Aman Development Area (SADA) — with substantial allocations for each to enhance and accelerate infrastructure development and utilities.
Additionally, the state government has various welfare programmes to take care of the poor and needy. The intention of our Chief Minister is to protect and champion the rights and well-being of our people.
The people can see that the GPS state government truly helps and fights for the rights and interests of Sarawakians.