Wednesday, 8 May 2013

SUPP needs new image to stay relevant

by Lian Cheng.

THE Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP) would have been wiped out in the 13th General Elections on Sunday if not for a face-saving victory in the Bumiputera-majority Serian seat where its popular deputy president Datuk Richard Riot secured the party’s only success by an overwhelming majority of 13,151 votes.

Following the defeats in all the six Chinese-majority seats it contested — Bandar Kuching, Stampin, Sibu, Lanang, Sarikei and Miri — SUPP president Datuk Seri Peter Chin apologised for the dismal performance, saying he will shoulder the blame for yet another huge loss suffered by the party since its inception 54 years ago.

No one doubts Chin’s sincerity in acknowledging SUPP’s failure to put up a better showing in this election nor his very honourable and decent reaction to the dismal results.

However, what should be scrutinised even more closely now is the party’s relevance to the Chinese community. Can SUPP still touch base with the community on crucial issues affecting them or has it lost touch with their needs?

This is not a new question. SUPP’s relevance to the Chinese community had already been called into question since its crushing defeat in the 2011 state elections, losing an unprecedented 11 out of 13 Chinese-majority seats it contested, including a slew of strongholds.

Based on the 2011 drubbing, SUPP was predicted to only have a fighting chance in the parliamentary seats of Stampin and Sibu in Sunday’s polls.

There were still hopes in Stampin because of Datuk Yong Khoon Seng’s popularity and clean image as the MP whereas in Sibu, the party was banking on the full support of the Bumiputera population that forms 36 per cent of the electorate – plus the backing of the urban SUPP faithfuls – to carry the day. But all the pre-polls predictions were turned upside down.

If the Chinese community had voted to reject SUPP candidates such as Yong who has a track record of serving his constituents faithfully, and other well-respected and diligent party leaders such as Datuk Sebastian Ting and Vincent Lau Lee Ming who have been serving the community without asking for anything in return, then one can only conclude that even though these SUPP leaders had given of their best in serving the community, it was apparently not enough.

However, according to another school of thought, the Chinese community recognise these facts and the votes they cast on May 5 were not so much against SUPP as against the BN government as a whole.

At every opposition ceramah, the Chinese community had been told Ini Kali Lah (this is the time) – meaning the time was right to make a total change of the government and try out the two- party system.

It is believed the opposition’s campaigning along this line had given the community a sense of mission and “a purpose in life.” The community had been convinced that the new government would be one that is fair and clean, bereft of all the vices of the present BN government.

In other words, SUPP was fighting against a political ideology or a political ideal. It’s a tide even a united party would have had a hard time trying to stem, let alone SUPP on its own, considering the party went into the election disadvantaged and fragmented by factional infighting that was not healed but only subdued.

After such a big setback — and an uncertain future ahead of it — the party has called for a Central Working Committee (CWC) meeting today to identify the cause(s) of its poor electoral performance and chart a way out of the political eagre into friendlier waters.

The agenda may include the stepping down of its president Datuk Seri Peter Chin, the refusal to accept any ministerial portfolio by those elected and the withdrawal from BN as a component party.

It’s believed the party will take some drastic measures to ensure its survival as there are still many who subscribe to its fundamental beliefs and values.

In the six seats it contested, SUPP garnered 114,109 votes against DAP-PKR’s 166,389.The total majority of votes for the six seats was 52,280 (see table). Based on the figures, SUPP picked up 40 per cent of the total 284,104 votes cast.

Thus, despite winning just one seat, it’s perhaps fair to say SUPP, as a party, still represent 40 per cent of the Chinese community across Sarawak.

Moreover, given that the electoral battle this round had pitted SUPP at its nadir against DAP at its zenith, the outcome could be deemed understandable.

In the face of overwhelming odds, SUPP managed to put up a breakwater to stem 40 per cent of the urban tide — a fact even state BN chairman Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud agrees with.

What SUPP needs now is a visibly drastic change to convince the people that it is a “what you see is what you get” party — one that gains support by fulfilling promises, not making empty promises.-theborneopost

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