Dr Jeniri Amir
SUPP already on the ground
Realising the situation he is going to face on May 16, the likely candidate of Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP) has started going to the ground. He wasted no time in meeting as many voters as possible, including the vegetable sellers and fish vendors in the town with a population of about 260,000 and known for the Foochows. Robert Lau Hui Yew is aware that he is in for something tough.
The Sibu Municipal Council member has never tested his luck in any election although he was appointed as the agent for the late Datuk Robert Lau in the 2004 and 2008 general elections.
Hence, the move of going down to the ground is a smart one to introduce himself and bring himself closer to voters. Also, he only has eight days for campaigning. Under the Sibu Parliament seat, he has to cover three areas of Dewan Undangan Negeri, that is, Bawang Assan, an Iban majority area, Nangka which has a majority of Malay/Melanau and Pelawan, a Chinese majority area. Both three DUN seats were won by Barisan Nasional in the 2006 State election.
SUPP lost seats to DAP – will this continue?
Pelawan was nearly lost to DAP when the candidate merely won with a 263-vote majority. Pelawan was once won by DAP along with Bukit Assek in the 1996 State election. Two other seats lost from the grip of SUPP in the election were Maradong and Kidurong. The defeat was the result of local issues including delays in completing the Sibu Airport and a host of other factors such as President of SUPP and Deputy Chief Minister failing to resolve issues related to the Chinese community. In fact, the votes in the general election too were not with SUPP in the DUN Pelawan area.
What would the voting trend be amongst the Chinese who made up 90 percent of the some 23,000 registered voters in Pelawan in the by-election later especially after the political tsunami 8 March 2008? Will they be influenced by local issues and vote like during the last general election? Surely they will be more confident in making the calculation after witnessing the action taken by the Chinese in Peninsula.
The Role of Bumiputera votes are very important
But this does not mean that the role of Malay/Melanau and Iban voters are not important. One must remember that Bumiputera voters made up about 38 percent, and if a large part of the voters support SUPP, the chances of SUPP winning is high. Iban voters who occupy 110 longhouses particularly in Bawang Assan and along Batang Igan also need to be given attention when campaigning.
Their demands and needs must be fulfilled by SUPP to ensure they stand strongly behind SUPP. Problems and issues besieging the Malay/Melanau especially in the Dewan Undangan Negeri Nangka must be given attention – don’t wait until they felt left out. Has the ADUN Nangka played his role effectively to assist Malay/Melanau voters in the area?
Expected to be the toughest buy-election
The fight is expected to be the toughest in the history of by-election, tougher than the one in 1982. Sibu Town was once lost to DAP in 1982 when Ling Sie Ming edged out Tan Sri Wong Soon Kai from SUPP with a slim majority of 141 votes. In that election, he was announced as a giant killer and shocked the people in the Chinese majority town. Sibu once witnessed a migration of about 1,000 Chinese to the town in 1901 to explore the Rejang area. They were brought by Wong Nai Siong to Sungai Merah as padi and vegetable farmers.
3,000 majority is not significant – in the context of a Deputy Minister post of the last winner
A nearby seat, Lanang, was also won by DAP through its candidate Wong Sing Nang with a majority vote of 3,973 in the 1990 general election. In the election, SUPP candidate Tieu Sung Seng garnered 11,432 votes compared to Sing Nang 15,405 votes. In the past election, Wong Ho Leng who had tried his luck in Sibu Town for three times obtained 15,903 votes, compared to the late Lau who obtained 19,138 votes. So, the majority of about 3,000 votes is not deemed large, more so given the position of the late Lau as Deputy Minister.
Chinese Vote will form the base line to win
Voters in the Chinese majority area in Sibu are not hesitant to support the opposition if they are dissatisfied with the government or the party representing them.
With about 60 percent from the some 55,000 are Chinese voters, what excuse can Chinese voters use to not support SUPP? They are practical voters who care no less of the promises and government political development policies. They do not vote for the party policy but vote based on issue. For Chinese voters, although they vote for DAP, BN government will still implement development projects in the area, including the flood mitigation project worth millions as announced by government leaders.
Will MCA , Gerakan elements / situation affect SUPP?
The voting trend among Chinese voters is no longer similar to that before 2006 State election which saw six seats belonging to SUPP falling into the hands of DAP. SUPP is still nursing its wound as a result of the embarrassing loss. The situation becomes even difficult for SUPP after witnessing how MCA and Gerakan was badly hit in Peninsula during the 2008 general election.
Like it or not, whatever that happened in the previous elections to both parties representing the Chinese in Peninsula indirectly influences the mind and voting attitude here. For the voters, what do they stand to lose if one more DAP representative is sent to the Dewan Rakyat to accompany Chong Chieng Jen, Kuching Member of Parliament, so that the voice of opposition representing the Chinese from Sarawak is stronger?
Local issues will be of utmost importance
In the 11th by-election, SUPP has to adopt the strategy to defend because DAP is expected to shoot at the oldest party in Sarawak under the leadership of Tan Sri George Chan Hong Nam. What is certain, DAP will manipulate issues local and national. Local issues that will be played up including drainage, flood, Sarawak United College and the failure of SUPP to set up a university as promised 10 years ago.
National issues are also important
The latest national issue to be exploited by DAP, including Apco, GST and a few others. How far can national issues have an impact in the election this time? Will national issue influence Sibu voters like in the 1982 and 1990 elections? Among the crucial factors that brought victory to DAP in the 1982 election in Sibu and Lanang in 1990 was the success of manipulating national issues at that time.
SUPP has much to lose if it does not win
DAP wants to ensure that it is not disappointed once more in this attempt. SUPP also does not want to be seen sidelined by the Chinese. The reputation that SUPP tries to protect is high and it has to pay a high price if defeated in the election. SUPP is expected to continue using its old ingredients particularly highlighting the ability as ruling party to bring development projects and fight for the Chinese in this State with some 2.4 million population. The advantage of the Prime Minister leadership, particularly on the New Economic Model, transparency of the government and the 1Malaysia Concept which emphasise all races will be used in campaigning by SUPP. The contributions of the late Lau in transforming Sibu Town will also be taken advantage of to influence the voter sentiment.
DAP win will spell the early demise of SUPP in Chinese majority areas
What is the implication if DAP won and SUPP lost? The win will give confidence to DAP that Chinese urban voters will be on their side in the coming State election, expected after September this year.
As for SUPP, if the seat remained in its grip, it will give a good indication for its future. SUPP can claim that its image and position have been restored, and what is certain, Chinese voters will support the party in the 10th State election. In other words, the results will reflect what will happen in the State election. This has kept both sides in suspense as they strive to pull voters to their side with various strategies.
One of the strategies of SUPP is to announce the name of possible candidate earlier. As of now, Robert Lau Hui Yew, 45, who has been with SUPP for 17 years is trying to project himself as suitable candidate. He is viewed as a people leader who is capable of solving problems faced by voters in Sibu.
On the other hand, DAP is seen as more cautious in selecting its candidate. State DAP chairman who is also ADUN Bukit Assek Wong Ho Leng appears careful to ensure DAP win this time. At one side, he does not want to seen as power greedy by trying his luck again. He also does not want to be seen refusing to give way to young leaders in the party. That is among the reasons he had announced that DAP is not short of potential candidates by stating seven other names. But he is actually at a crossroad.
Wong Ho Leng is a well tested candidate and leader
His leadership as opposition leader in Sarawak cannot be denied. For the Chinese community in Sibu, a leader who is vocal and brave in facing BN is the perfect candidate. At the end of the day, it does not matter whether the candidate is young or old, new or old, but a person who can bring victory to DAP.
This is the main factor taken into consideration by leader of Pakatan Rakyat, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim when making a final decision in determining its candidate who will contest at the Sibu Town that is often linked with matches whenever election looms. But DAP and Pakatan Rakyat cannot gamble its fate this time by naming a candidate that has never been tested and unknown, as well as difficult to ‘sell’ to voters.
Winning is everything
The candidate must be capable of bringing victory and improve the image and credibility of Pakatan Rakyat. Imagine if DAP lost in Sibu and PKR candidate lost in Hulu Selangor in the hands of BN in the two by-elections? The risk is too big. BN certainly wishes to see that Pakatan Rakyat lost in Sibu and Hulu Selangor.