KUCHING: “Let me tell you a story about an old man in China who had two sons,” United People’s Party (UPP) leader Wong Soon Koh told party members today.
Erroneously recounting the Aesop fable as a Chinese folk story, Wong said that each son could not individually break a bundle of sticks, whereas together they could.
Calling for closer cooperation with Chinese-majority BN component Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP), Wong said the two parties are akin to “brothers.”
UPP is a splinter party that broke off from SUPP in 2014 following infighting that began in 2011.
At UPP’s extraordinary delegates conference today, Wong called for “unity” among both parties in preparation for the next general election (GE14), but stopped short of any talk of merger or UPP members rejoining SUPP.
“All of us agree that if divided we are weak and if united we are strong. We must work together, face challenges together and only together can we build a more united Chinese community,” said Wong, who is the state second finance minister.
“It is time for UPP and SUPP to search for consensus and act in unison to contribute towards a happier and more united state of Sarawak,” he said to an audience of about one thousand members.
Wong, who is Bawang Assan assemblyman, said BN’s performance in the last general election (GE13) in predominantly Chinese constituencies was “not something we could feel proud of”.
He said BN “lost quite badly” in six Chinese-majority parliamentary seats – Kuching, Pending, Sibu, Lanang, Sarikei and Miri. All the seats are controlled by DAP and PKR.
“It is a known fact that UPP and SUPP would want to have some share of these parliamentary seats.”
And if we want to set ourselves a target of recapturing some, if not all of the seats we lost, both parties must immediately work together assessing each other’s strengths in each of the constituencies to identify the correct and winnable candidates to represent the Chinese community,” Wong said.
“Only then, can we ensure greater Chinese unity and greated Chinese representation in the Federal BN government. What is needed most critically is unity, the combined forces of both parties, UPP and SUPP, working together to ensure victory for the seats we lost in the last general election,” Wong said.
Sarawak will only see parliamentary elections in GE14 having held its state election last year. UPP controls no parliamentary seats while SUPP has only one, Serian, which is held by SUPP deputy president Richard Riot, who is also a federal minister.
Wong’s overture to SUPP follows comments he made last week, where he said he would not rejoin SUPP, but that both parties should instead talk about “collaboration”.
“I was sacked from SUPP. If I want to go back (to SUPP) they must re-accept me. Isn’t it? Many of us in UPP were sacked by SUPP,” he had said.
UPP vs SUPP
The infighting in SUPP, which led to the split in the party, can be traced to the time just after former party president and Sarawak deputy chief minister George Chan Hong Nam was unseated from his seat of Piasau in the 2011 state election.
Chan had been asked by party supporters to delay his resignation until the party’s triennial delegates convention and presidential election in December 2011.
His successor, Peter Chin Fah Kui defeated Wong, who was then SUPP deputy secretary-general, in the party polls, but only after half of the delegates boycotted the elections.
Wong’s supporters felt that with more seats on their side, Chin should not lead the party.
Chin did not defend the Miri parliamentary seat in the last general election in 2013 , and offered to resign but was asked to serve until 2014. PKR’s Dr Michael Teo Yu Keng won the seat in 2013 defeating SUPP’s Sebastian Ting who was Chin’s political secretary.
By May 2014, the internal squabble had gutted SUPP, with Wong ultimately leaving with three assemblypersons, all of whom are Dayak, to form UPP.
One such leader was then three-term assemblyman Dr Jerip Susil, who was later made UPP deputy president.
SUPP was left with one parliamentary seat and two state seats, but later gained five additional state seats from DAP in the state election last May, mostly on the back of the popularity of the late Adenan Satem.
Prior to the election, Adenan had coined the term “BN-friendly” party to circumvent UPP’s possible deregistration by the Registrar of Societies. UPP’s candidates resigned to contest as “BN direct candidates” in the state election.
In the state election, UPP’s Tiong Thai King wrested the state seat of Dudong from DAP, bringing UPP’s total state seat tally to five.
Thai King is the brother of Tiong Hiew King, the owner of timber conglomerate Rimbunan Hijau Group.
More turmoil lay ahead for UPP however.
Last May, after the state election, the state’s dominant party, Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB) said it received applications from Jerip, who is Mambong assemblyman, former UPP senior vice-president Ranum Mina (Opar) and former UPP youth Chief Dr Johnical Rayong (Engkilili) to join PBB.
Adenan refused their applications and the three returned to UPP in August.
Yesterday, Wong successfully filed a motion at the Sarawak assembly to dismiss the DAP’s Pujut assemblyman for once having Australian citizenship. The motion was seconded by Jerip and was carried through by 70 BN assemblypersons who voted for the dismissal
Wong is the oldest state assemblyman. He will be celebrating his 75th birthday this Tuesday.