Sarawak election: Doomsday for the SUPP?

Kuek Ser Kuang Keng, Hornbill Unleashed

With the 10th Sarawak state election set for April 16, time is ticking for Supp, the second largest party in the state’s ruling coalition, to fight for its survival in probably the toughest election since its formation in 1959.

In the 2006 state election, the Chinese-dominated party suffered its worst electoral hammering, losing eight of 19 seats it contested.

The casualties included two assistant ministers and a mayor. The May 20 polling day was described as one of the darkest days of its 46-year history by its president George Chan then.

(Engkilili assemblyperson Johnichal Rayong who contested on a Snap ticket jumped to SUPP after the state election, allowing the latter to control 12 seats.)

Despite pledges to reform itself, infighting involving all top leaders in the party erupted soon after the polls, with Chan held responsible for the party’s defeat, triggering demands for him to hand over the presidency.

george chan hong namAlthough Chan (right) and his incumbent leadership managed to persuade the aspirants to withdraw their candidacy and reach a no-contest consensus in the 2008 party election, skirmishes among the party leaders continue even till today.

“The split in SUPP continues to exist because it involves vested interests among the different factions in the party. It cannot be patched up easily,” said Miri-based researcher and author Chan Eng Seng.

He pointed out that SUPP’s infighting was reflected in the recent controversies over the choice of candidates in certain seats including PadunganMeradong and Dudong.

Seats to watchout for

Of the eight seats SUPP lost in last state election, seven are Chinese-majority constituencies.

Meanwhile, among the 11 seats won by SUPP, seven have more than 50 percent Chinese voters. SUPP grabbed three of them with less than 600 majority – Pelawan, Dudong and Repok.

Palawan, in the heart of Sibu, with the electorate being about 90 percent Chinese, has been showing a strong leaning towards the opposition since 2006.

azlanBN took the seat in last state election with a wafer-thin majority of 263 votes but DAP secured a majority of 3,132 parliamentary votes from this state seat in the 2008 general election, followed by some 5,600-vote majority in the May 2010 Sibu by-election.

Dudong falls under the Lanang parliamentary constituency, which is also within the Sibu area, while Repok, located at the centre of Sarikei, is a Chinese town predominated by the Foochow clan.

The three seats are the primary targets of the DAP, which aims to capture a total of 12 state seats.

Although SUPP secured comfortable majorities in the remaining four Chinese-majority areas – Batu Kawah, Bawang Assan, Piasau and Pujut – the idea of voters springing a surprise on April 16 cannot be ruled out.

“The possibility is there. History has shown that (former SUPP president and deputy chief minister) Wong Soon Kai could be defeated twice by DAP candidates. It is hard to say that SUPP senior leaders are safe in their current constituencies,” said Chan.

NONEThe SUPP strongman suffered a shock defeat at the hands of DAP’s Ling Soe Ming in his Sibu stronghold in the 1982 general election, followed by another fall in the 1996 state election, losing the Bukit Assek seat to Sarawak DAP chief Wong Ho Leng (left).

Chan warned that the opposition’s mega rallies before polling day in Penang and Sibu, during the 2008 general election and in the Sibu by-election respectively, had swung the voters significantly, and this could happen again.

The voting trend in one of the SUPP strongholds, Bawang Assan, a Chinese-majority urban seat held by the party’s deputy secretary-general and Sarawak second finance minister Wong Soon Koh, showed that Chan’s warning should not be ignored.

Wong retained the seat with a comfortable majority of 2,504 in 2006 state election, but the parliamentary majority dropped to 1,458 and 866 in the 2008 general election and Sibu by-election respectively.