When BN Sarawak was dissolved, there was some apprehension among the component members and supporters whether Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS), the successor party, would be registered in time for the state election in 2021.

Their worries were not without foundation after looking at how the previous BN government bullied Pakatan Harapan and refused to register it for the 14th general election.

There was a sigh of relief when the Registrar of Societies (RoS) gave GPS the nod. Though I am rather confused about his political moves in Sarawak, there was reason here to thank Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. At least he is a gentleman in this particular instance.

Prior to this, many of my friends have been wondering why GPS was so quiet, as if it was business as usual. I was at a loss on what to say, but felt confident that Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari and the GPS leadership knew what they were doing.

After all, they have survived all the political turmoil that happened in Sarawak in the last 50 years and, that PBB the core party actually survived intact for that long. It has been a case of strong loyalty not only among the party members but also the electorate that consistently supported them.

The statewide flag rally that started from Lawas and culminated at Stadium Perpaduan in Petrajaya was a momentous event that took place last week. The rally was well covered by the local press and well received by the crowds at various stops and reached its peak at the stadium which was filled to the brim with the crowd, singing and shouting for Sarawak rights.

Never before could one see Sarawakians openly and spontaneously expressing their love and loyalty for Sarawak.

The MA63 fever or demand for autonomy is indeed starting to catch up among the people. The rallying cry Utamakan Sarawak or ‘Sarawak First’ is starting to get wider audience in the state that used to be among the most friendly to the federal government.

It is as though Sarawakians have just awakened after a long slumber that saw them stripped off almost everything. Probably this is the heavy price people have to pay for being too trusting, tolerant and friendly. But this is our culture. In this, I am proud to say we differ from the ways of Malaya.

Dr Mahathir’s response to the launching of GPS is as expected. He asserted that Sarawak’s backwardness was because of greed and corruption of Sarawak’s own leaders.

It is the same old narrative of corruption and greed, that may fit Malayan politics very well, but here in Sarawak, it should not be a main issue any longer since Abang Johari and the late Pehin Sri Adenan Satem, the previous chief minister, are known to be as clean as any politician can be.

Will Sarawakians be duped by Dr Mahathir’s assertions, when his own family is known as among the richest in the country. In fact, a normal extremely wealthy person, overwhelmed by his own past gossips, should feel awkward to hawk around such stories about others.

Probably he knows he is addressing vulnerable young people who have no idea about Dr Mahathir’s history and how much his family is worth.

In fact, it is the neglect by the federal government  in areas under federal jurisdictions, namely roads, bridges, schools, hospitals, rural water, rural electricity supply and telecommunication that have caused Sarawak to fall behind Malaya in terms of development and progress.

Even now, it is he who cancelled a lot of projects in Sarawak that were initiated by Najib. And I would dare say that he would have cancelled the Pan Borneo Highway project as well, had it not been too troublesome and costly to do so.

In contrast, the Sarawak government has been doing extremely well in its own areas of jurisdiction which include cities and town development, land and forestry resources management, state government linked companies (GLCs) and state agencies like SEDC, Salcra, Baitulmal, Pelita and Sarawak Foundation.

In fact Sarawak is the only state in the country that owns huge hydroelectric dams like Bakun, Murum and Batang Ai. Sarawak even owns controlling interest in the Bintulu and Samalaju Ports.

With excellent investment and management records, Sarawak has managed to accumulate huge financial reserves which are being utilised for development for the benefit of Sarawakians. Hence, Sarawak First is not an empty slogan.

Yet, a campaign slogan by itself will not be enough to counter aggressive campaigns by Malayan-based parties like DAP and PKR. GPS should be prepared for a great, consistent and continuous campaign in a great environment complemented by this great slogan if it wants a sure victory.

PH being the federal government will have big advantage in the traditional mainstream TV and newspaper exposures. For this very reason GPS should make more efforts to make its presence felt in the new media such as Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram to reach the younger generation and computer savvy Sarawakians. -DAH IKHWAN