What now for Sarawak’s oldest political party?

ELECTION TALK: Sarawak United People's Party (SUPP), the state’s oldest party, was full of optimism at a Chinese New Year gathering in Kuching on March 1 when Dr Sim Kui Hian announced to the media: "I will be the party president for three terms or nine years. Now that one year has passed, I have eight more years to go. I hope I can do something special for the people as well as nurture new leaders to helm the party."

Only two days earlier, he raised a voice of urgency during a dialogue session with members of SUPP Bukit Assek branch in Sibu. He urged the local Chinese community to save the party by giving it a chance to serve them.

Sim also admitted that SUPP has a mountain to climb during the forthcoming state election.

As a matter of fact, SUPP is fighting for survival and how far the party can go from here will depend on the outcome of the election.

Reputed to be a Chinese majority multi-racial party, SUPP lost 13 of its 15 Chinese majority seats in the 2011 state election to the DAP. It managed to retain Bawang Assan in Sibu through Wong Soon Koh and Senadin in Miri through Lee Kim Shin.

Meanwhile, Wong had left the party in 2014 after an internal power struggle to form United People's Party (UPP). SUPP's predicament is not about losing Wong but that the chief minister is trying to split the 21 seats (including two new seats) formerly allocated to the party between the two warring factions.

SUPP's four Bumiputera-majority seats look secure, provided Chief Minister Adenan Satem does not move them to UPP. After all, the Bumiputera community has always known to be very patronising and accommodating towards the BN in every state election.

But then again, as a Chinese-majority party, SUPP would have lost its direction if it failed to capture any Chinese-majority seats. It must be able to win, not one or two but several Chinese-majority seats if it is thinking of political survival.

The present political climate looks bleak for SUPP. The party's best bet to obtain a Chinese-majority seat is said to be the newly created seat of Batu Kitang where Sim is expected to stand.

He will be up against two political lightweights, Voon Shiak Ni of PKR and Abdul Aziz of DAP but with mounting anti-BN sentiment at the federal level, the seat could go to any one of them.

Lee's chances in Senadin, Miri are not bright either. During the last state election he won the seat by a controversial razor-thin majority of 58 votes against Dr Michael Teo, who is now the PKR Member of Parliament for Miri.

If none of the SUPP Chinese candidates make it to the state legislative assembly, the party would not have any gumption left to represent the Chinese community. It would have lost its direction, it would have lost its Chinese voice.

Under such a situation, it would be best for the president to surrender his post to the party's Dayak deputy president Richard Riot Jaem, who is presently the MP for Serian as well as the federal Minister for Labour.

When support towards the party is not forthcoming in this election, the members will definitely become disillusioned and the party will be unable to attract new members or to formulate new policies.

Should the party's Dayak section be unwilling to take over the helm, it might as well be good to close shop and disband the members.

A political observer made this comment: "SUPP is already considered a mosquito party. After being forced to share its seat allocation with UPP, it will be reduced to a sand-fly after the election. If SUPP fares badly, it is unlikely that UPP will fare any better.

Well, in Sarawak's political landscape, political parties come and go and political frogs will continue to hop to greener pastures.

The strongest Dayak-based political party the state ever had was the Sarawak National Party (SNAP) which boasted of two Dayak chief ministers in the early days of Malaysia. However, it died in 2014 without a whimper.

SUPP was founded in 1959 against the backdrop of Chinese poverty and strong anti-colonial sentiments.

In the early days of Malaysia it was being branded a communist party as many of its members joined the Communist Party based in Kalimantan to wage a jungle guerrilla war against the government. However, it joined the Sarawak Alliance government in 1970 and has remained a faithful partner of the BN since 1973.-The Ant Daily

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