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Friday, April 29, 2011

Is a new Chinese-based party the answer?

With the massive rejection of the SUPP in the recent Sarawak polls, the Chinese in the state may be toying with the idea of forming a new party.

KUALA LUMPUR: Would a new Chinese-based party which is pro-Barisan Nasional (BN) and ready to discuss the many complaints among Sarawakian Chinese with the state and federal leadership be the answer?

The idea of one such party cropped up following the debacle faced by the Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP) after losing all but six of the 19 urban Chinese-majority seats it contested, which was seen by many, including those within the BN itself, as a massive rejection by the voters of the Chinese-based SUPP.

Sarawak National Party (SNAP) deputy chairman Johny Wong did not believe so as he pointed out that a new Chinese-based party to replace SUPP would not work and was pre-destined to fail if it comprised former SUPP leaders and members.

Wong likened it to the popular Chinese saying of “changing the soup but the ingredients remain the same”.

“It will be the same old story. Any move to form a new Chinese-based party must come with a complete overhaul of its leadership,” he said when asked to comment on talks that a new Chinese-based political party would be set up with the aim of replacing SUPP as a result of the recently concluded state election.

SUPP contested in 19 constituencies but lost 13, mostly to the opposition DAP. Furthermore, of their six victories, only two were in Chinese-majority seats – Bawang Assan won by Wong Soon Koh and Senadin by Lee Khim Shin.

Another factor, as pointed out by the president of The Federation of Kuching and Samarahan Divisions Chinese Association, Dr Chou Chi Ming, was that the voters knew most of the DAP potential candidates but did not know SUPP’s.

He noted that voters like to get to know potential candidates, regardless of which party they were associated with.

“Sometimes new items or brands may not be what the people actually want. There has to be some kind of human and personal touch, and to have that, these potential candidates must be with the people for a reasonable period of time,” he said.

Apart from that, he believed SUPP had very bad publicity, which they could not counter fast enough.

“If analysed carefully, the propaganda and slogans by the opposition parties were not realistic, but they did sell in the heat of the election, especially when the SUPP didn’t do enough to counter them,” he said.

Chou, however, still believed that Sarawakian Chinese need not rush into forming a new party, as there were still significant opportunities to revive and breathe new life into SUPP with significant changes at the top.

“Fresh new faces are one thing, but more important is that they must come from the grassroots and have lived within the local community and grew up with them through thick and thin,” he added.

He pointed out that efforts made by the PBB (Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu) with new faces in their line-up and a sizeable balance with old familiar faces has proven correct, and gave new confidence to the voters; so much so that the party won all 35 seats it contested.

Many local political analysts said that during the 2006 state election, voters had been sending their first warning message to SUPP that they did not like what the party was doing after it lost eight out of 19 seats it contested.

They also said the party was weak due to in-fighting before losing the support of PBB over issues on land policy.

After the May 2006 state election, SUPP seemed to be improving with its plan to move forward, which explained why the party maintained its performance in the March 2008 parliamentary election when it won six seats, losing just Bandar Kuching to the DAP.

However, it was widely seen that the plan was not being implemented fully and internal fighting continued, causing many voters to view the party as being “ineffective and their leaders busy fighting for their own positions”.

That perception by Chinese voters explained why they put their votes behind the opposition in the Sibu by-election last year, resulting in SUPP losing its traditional stronghold by a slim majority to the largely Chinese-supported Peninsula-based DAP.

Political pundits said that despite the “second warning”, many SUPP leaders had still not changed and, worse still, the party was perceived as one that made a lot of empty promises.

“This has really put them off, that’s why many voters, particularly in urban areas, had already made up their mind, even before the state went to the poll,” said a political pundit who did not want to be identified.

Much has been said, and now it is up to SUPP to really listen to the voices and aspirations of the Sarawak Chinese if the party does not want good-bye to mean forever.

- Bernama

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