KOTA KINABALU: The last two general elections have shown that in the battle for Chinese votes DAP clearly enjoys the support of the Chinese community.
From Kuala Lumpur to Kuching and Kota Kinabalu, DAP candidates have proven to be the ones to beat in urban centres, where the Chinese population is heavily concentrated.
This trend is widely expected to continue. Or so it seems, in Sabah at least.
In Sabah, the emergence of Parti Warisan Sabah last October has arguably disrupted national opposition parties like DAP and PKR.
Both of them have lost Sabah leaders, most notably former PKR vice-president Darell Leiking and former Sabah DAP secretary Junz Wong to Warisan.
Before Warisan, it seemed as if the Chinese votes for the opposition in Sabah would undoubtedly go to DAP.
In the last general election (GE13), DAP won two parliamentary and four state assembly seats, a marked improvement from the one parliamentary and one state seat it won in the 2008 general election (GE12).
But nine months on, Warisan believes that it has broken that “monopoly” and is drawing more Chinese to join the party which is led by former federal minister Shafie Apdal.
Warisan vice-president Junz Wong said the party has seen a growing number of Chinese enter its fold.
“Tens of thousands of Chinese have joined Warisan, including former members from national opposition parties and BN parties,” Junz told FMT.
Meanwhile, he spoke about the backlash he faced, as a Chinese, joining a party led by former Sabah Umno stalwart Shafie.
“When I left DAP, many in the community were unhappy with me. They would approach me and express their unhappiness,” said Junz, who won the Likas state seat on a DAP ticket in GE13.
But after Warisan went on its state-wide tour to explain the party’s mission and vision for Sabah, Junz said things started to change and the Chinese in Sabah and many of his constituents were now “on board” the Warisan ship.
He said members of the community now walk up to him and give him words of encouragement and even take their problems to him.
Junz said a recent Merdeka Center survey had found that support for DAP from the Chinese community stood at 57%, which he believed was lower than after the last general election.
“Sabahan Chinese are different when compared with Chinese in the peninsula. They don’t identify themselves as being Chinese first. They regard themselves as being Sabahans first.
“So, naturally, given a choice, they will want a party which understands issues affecting Sabahans and which fights for them,” Junz said.
Such issues, he said, included giving power to Sabah to determine its education policies, as well as the power to issue licences for deep-sea fishing, seafood exports and tourism services, among others.
“So, I believe the Chinese community, alongside other Sabahans, see Warisan as the party that will fight for them,” Junz said, adding that although there were some who still harboured doubts, most of them accepted Warisan as a genuine opposition party.
Junz said he believed Warisan’s growing influence in the state, especially among the Chinese community, has caused uneasiness among DAP, leading to them attacking Warisan.
Crossing swords with DAP
In recent months, some DAP leaders like Sabah DAP secretary Chan Foong Hin and Kota Kinabalu MP Jimmy Wong have crossed swords with Warisan.
But Junz said this isn’t what the Chinese community wants to see.
“Even though we see that many Chinese are joining the party and showing greater support for us, we know that they want us to work with other opposition parties to take on BN,” he said, adding Warisan has made it very clear it is willing to work with all parties.
“For the sake of working with DAP, I’m even willing to give up the Likas seat and contest elsewhere.
“We are willing to work with anyone, but in doing so, all parties must be pragmatic.
“Don’t just think of claiming or declaring candidates for seats. We haven’t done anything of that sort,” he said, adding all parties shouldn’t “parachute candidates” here to contest.
Junz said the focus of all opposition parties should be on defeating BN in the next general electin (GE14 – which must be held by Aug 24, 2018 – and focus on finding the most winnable candidates who have been working hard on the ground and supporting them, regardless of which party they come from.
DAP willing to work with Warisan
Sabah DAP chairman Stephen Wong confirmed Junz’s comments on the issue of the growing Chinese support for Warisan.
“But Chinese support for DAP is not bad. In fact, before GE13, I don’t think we even had 57% support from the community,” he said, referring to the Merdeka Center survey.
Stephen said there were still people who were undecided on which party to support as the election isn’t exactly around the corner.
“DAP still has the upper hand in Chinese areas and PKR also has substantial support in some Kadazandusun Murut (KDM) and even Umno-held areas.”
But like Junz, Stephen says the majority of Sabah Chinese want DAP and Warisan to work together rather than against each other.
“Everyone can see the rationale. We have support, though not in Umno areas. Hopefully, with Shafie leading the charge in Umno areas, a united opposition can topple BN.”
Stephen said that Sabah DAP was open to working with Warisan and this has been the case since “day one” and that relations between Sabah DAP and Warisan were cordial.
“The attacks from some Sabah DAP leaders aren’t reflective of Sabah DAP’s stand,” he said, adding that there were times when statements of some DAP leaders, like Chan’s most recent statement, had been misunderstood.
“Chan wasn’t attacking Warisan. What he meant was that based on the Merdeka Center survey, no opposition party had a majority support, so we need to work together and that no one should be over-confident.”
Moving forward, Stephen said Sabah DAP was very keen to negotiate with Warisan to form an electoral pact.
He said what was important was that the opposition parties should work together to find the most winnable candidates.
“If there are better candidates from other parties, we have no problem making way. We can carry out opinion polls in all areas to determine which party has the best chance of winning in an area.”
Aside from BN, Warisan and Pakatan Harapan – which DAP and PKR are a part of – the other political force in the state is the United Sabah Alliance (USA).
USA is a coalition comprising Parti Solidariti Tanah Airku (Sabah STAR) led by Jeffrey Kitingan, Sabah Progressive Party led by Yong Teck Lee, Parti Harapan Rakyat Sabah led by Lajim Ukin and Parti Perpaduan Rakyat Sabah (PPRS) led by Arshad Abdul Mualap.