A rethink of Chinese politics

The alarm bells have been ringing for sometime over the declining representation of Chinese in the government – a trend that looks set to continue given the present Chinese political situation in the state.

Until the decline of Sarawak United people’s party (SUPP) the only Chinese based party in the State Barisan Nasional (BN) the community had always been well represented in the state government.

However, the BN Chinese political leaders in Sarawak have lost touch with their community and remained stagnant, old fashioned not only in its ideology but also in how it presented its ideology.

This could be gleaned from the fact that in 2006 State election, the party was still showing “Liu San Jie” (Third sister Liu) at its campaign gatherings. (Liu San Jie is a Chinese folk story which was turned into a musical production in 1960, depicting a village girl who fearlessly fought rich landlords for her own freedom and love.)

It was, thus, not surprising the party started losing its seats since 1998, culminating in the 2011 State election debacle where it lost 13 out of 19 seats contested, scrapping through with only two Chinese-majority seats – Bawang Assan and Senadin – while the remaining four were Bumiputera seats – Bengoh, Opar, Simanggang and Engkilili.

With the party suffering its first major electoral blow, all internal problems started boiling to their surface. The leadership of party president Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Dr George Chan, who failed to defend Piasau seat, was now in question.

Traditionally, the power play within SUPP hinges on the balance between the Northern Region (Miri), the Central Region (Sibu) and the Southern Region (Kuching).

For SUPP, Kuching used to be influential due to outstanding party leaders such as Tan Sri Ong Kee Hui, Datuk Amar Stephen Yong, Tan Sri Sim Kheng Hong and Datuk Song Swee Guan. The other clinching factor is the capital’s close proximity to the seat of the State government.

Sibu has always commanded respect due to its financial clout, being a timber town which has given rise to wealthy clans and groups whose families, in turn, were either SUPP leaders or supporters. Whereas Miri, being the oil town that took off politically only in the nineties, has yet to be on par with its Southern and Central counterparts.

As SUPP in the Central Region has always been dominant due to strong financial backing, Kuching and Miri have been teaming up to resist and limit the former’s influence. Such an alliance has been the reason for the failure of SUPP Sibu chairman Wong Soon Koh’s attempt to take down Dr Chan since SUPP suffered an embarrassing drubbing in 2006 where the party lost seven Chinese-majority seats to the opposition alliance of DAP, PKR and PAS.

Though SUPP leaders appear to wield significant influence in the party’s decision-making process, there is, however, an inbuilt mechanism that grants power to the grassroots delegates who are elected at the branch level and will represent their members at the Annual Delegates Conference (ADC), the party’s apex decision-making body.

The delegates will meet every three years at the Triennial Delegates Conference (TDC) to elect the president.

Decisions or resolutions reached during the ADC are final and will be implemented by the central leadership through the Central Working Committee (CWC), the executive arm of SUPP.

When central leadership is strong, the leadership at the branch level pales in comparison and is easily overlooked. However, in times of leadership crisis, these delegates are the determining factors in the decision-making at the highest level. They were the reason behind Wong Soon Koh’s failure to unseat Dr Chan twice since the 2006 State election. Wong was unable to garner enough support among the branch delegates, many of whom are die-hard party supporters.

The unresolved rift within SUPP inevitably led to a breakup. A faction, led by Wong, formed United People’s Party (UPP) amidst widespread rumours that SUPP would be deregistered. Events that led to the eventual split had exacted a big price from both SUPP and UPP as both are struggling to win the confidence and respect of the Chinese community.

Presently, SUPP may seem all right. But while the world is moving past post-modernism, SUPP seems to be still stuck in square one. How will it stay relevant – which is crucial to its survival– if it continues to cling to an ideology rooted in the1960’s? For SUPP presidents — from Dr Chan and Tan Sri

Peter Chin to Senator Datuk Dr Sim Kui Hian– revamping or rejuvenating the party has, since 2006, been the top priority. But until now, no tangible change is seen.

By virtue of its present circumstances, SUPP is perceived as a sunset party. Whatever chance or transformation (for the better) it has vowed to bring about has not materialised – at least not seen to have materialised, prompting political observers to comment that the status quo will remain unless there is an external X-factor to force a drastic structural overhaul.

UPP, on the other hand, is a lost child. It is basically like a rebellious son who ran away over some family disputes but waiting for the chance to return home – like the Prodigal Son, perhaps.

The biggest benefactor of the SUPP-UPP dispute is the opposition. However, it does not mean DAP or PKR will sail through the upcoming  State election by capitalising on such a divisive situation (for the State BN).

With Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Adenan Satem’s revolutionary and reformatory initiatives to ensure fairness to all racial groups, it is expected there will be a return of Chinese votes to the State BN. Although no one is certain as to its magnitude, it’s crystal-clear that whatever Adenan has done is making the opposition jittery. The Chinese have supported the opposition because they feel they have been short-changed by the government. Now, with Adenan’s policies aimed at benefiting all the communities, irrespective of race and religion, the opposition may find itself short of ammo to gun its election machinery.

Sarawak is now in a unique position within Malaysia because of Adenan’s inclusive leadership. To the Chinese, he gives what the community holds dear and rightly deserves – allocations for Chinese schools, recognition of the Unified Examination Certificate and entry into public service – aside from his other decisions that benefit all Sarawakians – abolition of tolls and eradication of corruption, in addition to a slew of others. Adenan’s reforms mean the opposition’s proclivity for finding fault has been blunted and rendered largely edgeless.

But if the pro-government Chinese leaders continue to be at each other’s throats and the predominantly Chinese opposition leaders persist in opposing for the sake of opposing, even though the government is now doing the right thing for all, what will happen is that there will be minuscule, if not total lack, of Chinese representation in the government.

Consequently, Sarawak will be a divided society – the Bumiputeras on the government side while the Chinese on the other side of the political aisle.

In such a scenario, the Chinese community will be the ones losing out – sadly of their own making.

With a liberal and open-minded Adenan at the helm, perhaps it is time for the Chinese BN leaders as well as the opposition leaders to rethink their politics.

Perhaps a fresh start could be made with all the parties involved setting aside their differences to unite under one big umbrella,aptly named Parti Anak Sarawak, where the three predominantly Chinese-based parties – SUPP, UPP and DAP –could come together under  a brand new party with the line-up to include prominent Chinese leaders such as Wong Soon Koh, Dr Sim Kui Hian, DAP chairman Chong Chieng Jen, PKR vice-president See Chee How as well as other Bumiputera leaders such as Datuk Dr Jerip Susil, Datuk Francis Hardin and others.

The leaders under the banner of Parti Anak Sarawak can stand in the 19 traditional SUPP seats and perhaps two new seats rumoured to be in store for the Chinese in Sarawak in the upcoming State election.

Sarawak is always different from the West Malaysian states not only because Sarawakians of different races readily accept each other. Sarawakians are also different for their gentle manners and peaceful ways of solving problems. Unruly political practices such as street demonstrations and confrontational negotiations are not part of the Sarawakian culture.

The Chinese community need good leaders – people who are willing to make sacrifices in order to make the right choices and do the right things.

Such an idealistic proposal may sound far-fetched or unthinkable to many but because Sarawakians are different, there is a hope our Chinese leaders will put the betterment of the community above self and pave the way to a Fairland Sarawak that is the envy of all the other states.

Comments can be sent to kamekanaksarawak@gmail.com.

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