KUCHING, Jan 19 ― The Goods and Services Tax (GST), high cost of living and the demand for Sarawak to be treated as an equal partner in the federation top the opposition’s cards ahead of the coming state election.
Sarawak’s disparate opposition parties may yet be bickering over their seats but they are united when it comes to issues closest to the heart of the average voter in Malaysia’s largest state, which is deeply connected to the people’s incomes.
“GST is affecting everybody's pocket and I am sure the opposition parties, like State Reform Party (STAR), will speak on it in their campaign,” Lina Soo, its treasurer-general, told Malay Mail Online in an interview yesterday as the Borneo state’s opposition parties pull on their fighting kit to counter the Barisan Nasional (BN) juggernaut in an election that must be called by June.
Soo, who is also president of the Sarawak Association for People's Aspirations (SAPA), said her party will definitely include the GST in its election manifesto.
“GST is a very unfair form of consumption tax and a major contributor to the sharp increases in prices of goods, not only in Sarawak, but also throughout the country,” she added, but did not elaborate on how her party would tackle the unpopular tax rolled out last April, which many Malaysians blame for the spike in living costs.
Soo also voiced confidence that Sarawak’s opposition parties will be demanding greater decentralisation and for the Hornbill State to regain a greater measure of its autonomy especially on matters relating to health, education and internal security, surrendered to the federal government at the formation of Malaysia in 1963.
This on top the the perennial native customary rights (NCR) and land topics that remain close to the hearts of voters deep in Sarawak’s rainforest interiors that are being stripped bit by bit for valuable lumbar and commodity plantations.
Native customary land activist Nicholas Bawin expects opposition parties will focus on the unsettled disputes between the native landowners and the plantation companies when on the stump in the more rural constituencies.
He estimated about 300 cases have been filed by the native landowners against the state government and the plantation companies that are still pending hearings in court.
Bawin said he had raised the NCR land issue when he stood in Batang Ai on a PKR ticket in the 2011 state elections, asking the state government to respect the customary rights of the natives over their land.
He said the disputes arose when the government encroaches into native land when issuing provisional leases over state land to plantation companies.
Bawin, who is a member of the state PKR election committee, said his party will include NCR land issue in its election manifesto.
Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak (PBDS Baru) deputy president Patrick Anek said he will call for fairness in the recruitment into the civil service, appointments of Sarawakians as heads of federal departments in the state, awarding of scholarships and awarding of government contracts in his election campaign.
“Apart from GST and high cost of living, these are the major issues which are worth fighting for,” he said, adding that Sarawakians have been unfairly treated when it comes to the recruitment into the civil service, promotion to senior posts and awarding of federal scholarships since 1963.
“All these were promised to our forefathers before they agreed to sign the Malaysia Agreement,” said Anek, who has been nominated by his party to contest in Opar in the coming election,
He added that demanding for fair treatment from the federal government is Sarawak's right.
Sarawak DAP secretary Alan Ling said his party will raise issues concerning GST, high cost of living, good governance and transparency as well as devolution of powers from the federal government to Sarawak.
“Under the devolution of powers, we want health, education, internal security and the power to collect and keep revenue from taxes be returned to Sarawak,” he said, adding that his party wants Sarawak to be treated as an equal partner to Malaya in the federation of Malaysia.
Ling, who is also the Piasau state lawmaker, said reclaiming these rights from the federal government has already been made in his party's Bintulu Declaration in 2014.