Looking beyond the recently-signed Kuching Declaration, the most important thing is not about what’s being said before the elections, but what comes after it.
Yet, the document is quite vague on how best to address the states’ problems beyond the royal commission of inquiry on illegal immigrants (which the Barisan-led government has already agreed to) and increasing oil royalties. “These are all essentially the same things they promised in 2008,” said Dr Jeniri Amir, a political communication and history lecturer at Universiti Malaysia Sarawak.
Yu Ji, The Star
THE Kuching Declaration, by the Pakatan Rakyat, seeks to redress the development imbalance between Peninsular Malaysia, Sarawak and Sabah should it win the impending general election.
The declaration’s seven points relate to restoring the spirit of the “Malaysia Agreement”. It includes upping the number of Sarawakians and Sabahans in decision-making positions within the civil service, initiating a royal commission on illegal migrants, and increasing oil royalties for both states from 5% to 20%.
In the last paragraph of the declaration, it summarises the points as “an incontrovertible contract between Pakatan Rakyat and the peoples of Malaysia”.
Leaving aside the outcome of the polls, the declaration brings to light two significant points.
Firstly, will the majority of Sarawakians and Sabahans see the significance of the declaration? Secondly, does Pakatan Rakyat, and in particular PKR, have enough good candidates in rural constituencies?
The second point will determine whether Pakatan has a good chance at taking the helm of Putrajaya. We know how strong DAP is in the urban and a couple of semi-rural areas. PAS, meanwhile, has not had much success in this liberal state.
One of the prime movers of the Kuching Declaration is a restaurateur, who happens to be the ex-manager of singer/actress Ning Baizura. Vernon Kedit runs the popular “the Dyak” restaurant in Kuching, which has a 4.5 out of five rating on tripadvisor.com.
When asked to help organise Pakatan’s Malaysia Day celebrations here, Vernon applied the same flair he had acquired as a pop star’s manager as well as the attention to detail so evident in his restaurant’s food.
The man is smart, eloquent and has a passion for all things Sarawak.
“We could have just had an ‘event’, or we could have a significant one. We chose the latter,” Vernon told me in an interview this week.
For two weeks, Vernon and his Pakatan counterparts — including state DAP secretary Chong Chieng Jen, a multi-term MP and state assemblyman, and PAS officials — discussed and debated the contents of the declaration.
Several key words were removed and then reinstated just days ahead of Malaysia Day. The final version was preceded by eight drafts.
On Sept 16, six state and national Pakatan leaders signed the declaration at Chong Lin Commercial Centre, the venue of a massive ceramah on the eve of 2008’s general election, which led to Barisan’s worst showing since Merdeka.
Altogether, six documents were signed - one for each of the signatories to take home. Three billboard-sized declarations were also on their way back to the headquarters of each of the Pakatan parties.
The Kuching Declaration, according to Vernon, is a legal document.
“Whereas Buku Jingga is a book of policies, the Kuching Declaration is a very legal piece of paper. You cannot bring Buku Jingga to court, but you can bring the declaration to one,” Vernon said. “It guarantees us autonomy and as equal partners within Malaysia.”
The underlying theme of the declaration is the ones stating “Sarawak for Sarawakians,” and “Sabah for Sabahans”.
Yet, the document is quite vague on how best to address the states’ problems beyond the royal commission of inquiry on illegal immigrants (which the Barisan-led government has already agreed to) and increasing oil royalties.
“These are all essentially the same things they promised in 2008,” said Dr Jeniri Amir, a political communication and history lecturer at Universiti Malaysia Sarawak.
Jeniri also dismissed the declaration as a “gimmick to win the “hearts and minds” of Sarawakian and Sabahan voters.
How exactly would autonomy translate into better governance to ensure that Sarawakians and Sabahans have, say, better education opportunities, he asked.
“Yes, there are inequalities and yes, the Opposition has made inroads into the rural areas, judging by the votes in the last state elections.
“Barisan should seriously consider some of the problems raised by Pakatan.
“But on the declaration, it’s just the same promises all over again.”
Personally, I doubt the declaration would have much impact beyond the urban middle-class.
How many people in Baram or Hulu Rajang know about the Malaysia Agreement? How many young people know about the 18- and 20-point agreements?
In time, will the Kuching Declaration be remembered as a significant happening; or will it fade away as a mere footnote in history?
All that depends on the outcome of the general election. After all, the only thing that matters the most is not what is being said before the elections, but what comes after it.