Questions still linger over SUPP's sustainability and attractiveness, in time to come.
KUALA LUMPUR: Come Monday, the Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP), the oldest political party in the state, will celebrate its 53rd anniversary.
However, to some political analysts, questions linger over its sustainability and attractiveness, in time to come.
Going by its record in recent elections, SUPP appears to be weakening due to, what many believe, poor perception among the electorate.
Chief among the negative thoughts are that it has failed to represent the people’s voice, followed by the party’s internal squabbles since 2004.
Political analyst James Chin from Monash University Malaysia points out that the party seems to have lost its direction and original purpose from 1970 onwards, after adopting a more right-wing, conservative, Chinese-based party approach. It began as a left-wing party, upon its formation on June 4, 1959.
“Since then, it has lost most of its Dayak support, although it still retains some Dayak majority seats due to the Sarawak BN (Barisan Nasional) seat allocation formula,” he told Bernama.
Chin said SUPP was further weakened when Sarawak DAP was formed by a renegade group of SUPP members who teamed up with some anti-establishment Chinese groups.
Chin, who has written extensively on SUPP, said the emergence of the Sarawak National Party (SNAP) in 1976, had also further diluted SUPP’s influence in the state political scenario.
In 1981, the party transformed itself but was perceived as a “towkay” or “rich man’s party”, only serving the interests of the business community.
“SUPP paid a heavy price for that [being perceived as a ‘towkay party’] in the 2006 state election when it was defeated in urban areas,” he said.
Despite internal splits and the shocking loss of six state seats in the 2006 state elections, SUPP still managed to retain six out of seven parliamentary seats in the 2008 general election.
Nevertheless, the defeat in the Sibu by-election in 2010 was a rude awakening, and support for SUPP was further eroded when it lost 13 of 19 seats it contested in the Sarawak state election in April last year.
Even then-party president Dr George Chan Hong Nam was defeated in his Piasau seat by Ling Sie Kiong, a 28-year-old rookie from DAP.
The stunning defeat in the state election even saw no celebrations during the party’s anniversary, two months later. In the past, anniversaries were grand affairs.
Chin is of the view that SUPP may not do so well in Chinese majority areas in the coming general election, except in Bumiputera or mixed areas.
This means that it stands a good chance in Serian, a Bumiputera area currently held by deputy president and deputy foreign minister Richard Riot Jaem.
“There is a slim chance to regain Sibu but other seats, such as Sarikei, Lanang and Miri, are in danger. There is no way the party can get back the Kuching parliamentary seat.
“Judging from previous election results, SUPP is unlikely to pull off a miracle in Kuching. You need a swing of at least 10,000 voters in your favour in order to win, based on last year’s state election results,” said political analyst and senior lecturer at Univerisiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas) Dr Jeniri Amir.
SUPP may have a slim chance to recapture Sibu as the DAP narrowly won the parliamentary seat in a by-election in 2010, because the local population seems to have warmed up more to BN.
It could be an uphill battle for SUPP to retain the Lanang parliamentary seat, now held by Tiong Thai King, the Sibu Municipal Council chairman.
Tiong was defeated when nominated to defend the Dudong state seat last year, which comes under the Lanang parliamentary seat.
In Miri, which was won by Peter Chin Fah Kui, the current SUPP president and energy, green technology and water minister, there is also some concern from the results of the last state election.
Former Pujut state assemblyman Andy Chia, when contacted by Bernama, said even though Pakatan Rakyat was still uncertain about who should contest, BN had to work harder, this time around.
Perhaps, SUPP members can take inspiration from the advice given by Prime Minister and BN chairman Najib Tun Razak, about six months ago, when he said that “SUPP is far from over”.
“The necessary thing that SUPP has to do now, is to re-establish the trust, bond, and the confidence of the people towards the party. In this regard, SUPP needs to re-think its strategies and re-look at its current image with the intention of improving it.
“It also needs to revamp the party machinery with the intention of strengthening it. In short, change what needs changing in order to make the party the choice of Sarawakians, again,” Najib had said.