Continued infighting within SUPP may see the end of the party’s decades-long reign over ‘oil-city’ Miri.
The constituency has about 70,000 voters. The Chinese community forms about 55.0% of the population with the Ibans at 28.2% and the rest made up of the Malay-Melanau and Orang Ulu groups.
“Oil-city” Miri has been the bedrock of SUPP’s strength since the 1970.
In the 2004 general election, SUPP president Peter Chin won the seat uncontested. Chin again won the seat in the 2008 general election when he secured 19,354 votes to beat his DAP rival Fong Pau Teck by 5,216 votes.
But the results of the 2011 state election showed that SUPP’s strength had significantly eroded in the Miri parliamentary constituency. The constituency comprises three state seats – Piassau, Pujut and Senadin.
Of the three, SUPP lost Piassau and Pujut to DAP and managed to retain Senadin through Lee Kim Shin by a 58-vote majority over PKR’s Dr Michael Teo. Until today people in Senadin believe that Lee’s victory was rigged.
Teo, a medical practitioner, is now PKR-Pakatan Rakyat’s candidate for the Miri parliamentary seat.
He is in a three-cornered fight with Sarawak State Reform Party’s (STAR) Chong Kon Fatt and SUPP-Barisan Nasional’s Sebastian Ting. Chin, the Miri incumbent, had declined to contest.
Teo’s candidacy is not without hiccups.
Initially, the seat was claimed by DAP. In fact, DAP had already announced Lim Su Kien as its candidate.
But party members in Miri had strongly opposed Lim’s candidacy and had openly protested against her and criticised the party leadership.
Their actions prompted the party leadership to sack six of the masterminds.
The expulsions worsened the situation within Miri DAP and threatened to undermine not only party unity, but also its ability to capture the Miri seat.
“Perhaps it was for this reason that the DAP leadership had to give up the seat to PKR when it asked for the seat,” noted a political observer.
Between Teo and Lim, the former has a better chance of winning the seat, despite the allegations that he is “anti-birth”.
In this predominantly Christian constituency, Teo’s willingness to perform abortions is seen as a “weakness”.
One Teo campaigner said it was unfair to totally blame Teo.
“He has been helping the natives defend their native customary rights land; he talks about the woes that are plaguing the city such as the overcrowded Miri Hospital, health services, crimes, the lack of employment opportunities, the lack of business opportunities for the middle class Chinese and Chinese education.
“He has also been highlighting corruption and abuse of power which is associated with the leadership of the state government.
“He is well-prepared for this parliamentary election and has been working hard after he was defeated in Senadin,” said his campaigner, who declined to be named.
These were the very issues that resulted in the then deputy chief minister and SUPP president and incumbent George Chan’s defeat of Piassau seat.
Chan’s defeat was also partly due to the infighting in the party which persists until today.
Looking at all these issues, Teo’s chances are brighter due to the worsening split in SUPP leadership between current party president Chin and its former deputy secretary Wong Soon Koh, who is also the state’s Second Minister of Finance. Wong is also the chairman of SUPP’s Sibu branch.
While Chin had recommended Ting, a political secretary to the prime minister, for the seat, Wong had recommended one of his men.
But his recommendation was ignored and this angered Wong and his supporters.
Ting claimed that there were efforts by his opponents allegedly from Wong’s faction to tarnish his good name by distributing a doctored photo of him in and around Miri.
With the fast approaching general election, Prime Minister and Barisan Nasional chairman Najib Tun Razak has called on both sides to stop washing dirty linen in public.
Both sides appear to have halted their attacks on each other. But the enmity, nonetheless, is still there.
Even now, they have been avoiding each other either in party or government functions.
In such a scenario, how could a disunited SUPP go to “war” not only in Miri, but also in Sarikei, Lanang, Sibu, Stampin, Bandar Kuching and Serian?
As casualties are therefore expected, will Miri be one of them?