Departure of Sarawak parties from Barisan Nasional is Pakatan Harapan's gain, analysts say

Malaysia's Pakatan Harapan supporters waving party flags during a rally in Kuala Lumpur, on May 16, 2018.
Malaysia's Pakatan Harapan supporters waving party flags during a rally in Kuala Lumpur, on May 16, 2018.PHOTO: AFP

PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Malaysia's Pakatan Harapan (PH) ruling coalition is in a stronger position in Parliament following the departure of four Sarawak parties from Barisan Nasional (BN), analysts said.

The parties, which renamed themselves the Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) on Tuesday (June 12), said it would continue to be in the opposition in Parliament, but also indicated that it would "cooperate and collaborate" with the Federal Government on national interest and state rights.

"It is a morale boost for Pakatan. Without contesting, it has an extra 19 seats, closer to the two-thirds majority," said political analyst Sivamurugan Pandian of Universiti Sains Malaysia.

Universiti Malaysia Sarawak political analyst Jeniri Amir said PH was now in a better position to push through reforms.

A two-thirds majority would allow the PH pact to amend the Federal Constitution, which could include changes to the electoral system.

But independent political analyst Khoo Kay Peng believed the PH was not necessarily stronger as both Sabah and Sarawak would try to get the best deal for themselves.

"What happened in Sabah and Sarawak shifted the political situation," he said.

"During the last regime, we saw a very strong central government focused in Putrajaya. Sabah and Sarawak were merely considered two of the 13 states," he said.

He believed the new coalitions in Sabah and Sarawak would push for more autonomous power and equal partnership with the Federal Government.

Mr Khoo said he expected a renewed conscience for Sarawak rights not only from GPS, but also PH lawmakers there.

"They will join in the calls to demand more political rights and allocations for Sarawak," he added.

As for BN, the departure of the Sarawak-based parties is clearly a political setback.

Dr Sivamurugan said this latest development meant a crisis of moral legitimacy for BN, as its numbers and strength in Parliament had been reduced.

Barisan now has 57 seats left in Parliament - Umno with 54, Malaysian Indian Congress with two and Malaysian Chinese Association with one.

In the last election, it held 133 seats in Parliament.

Dr Sivamurugan said the biggest challenge for BN now is whether more component parties will leave the coalition or if there will be changes after the Umno elections at the end of the month.

"It will come to an end if its own leadership has no political will to change," he said.

He also pointed out that Umno and Parti Islam SeMalaysia, which has 18 parliamentary seats, could even align in the future.

Dr Jeniri said what happens to the BN depends on how it transforms itself and how the PH performs.

"They are still relevant in the short term. They need to be a strong opposition and learn from Pakatan, which was the opposition before, to be an effective watchdog," he said.

Mr Khoo added that no one seemed to be taking leadership in BN at the moment, and what happened in Sarawak was a result of that.

"It seems to be in continuous disintegration. It must quickly decide on its direction and consolidate," he said.