Tuesday, September 24

Whither the Chinese community after SUPP rout?

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RODERICK OH, a retired government servant, operates a karaoke joint with his family in the city.

His normal ‘office hours’ are from 8am to 2am. And he also has to send his granddaughter to school at 6am.

“I have been doing this soon after my retirement and it looks like I’ll have to continue doing it for a while yet,” he told The Borneo Post.

Oh admitted he voted for the opposition in the state election on April 16 as he has never received any assistance from the government.

“For me, it doesn’t matter who represent the Chinese community in the government. In fact, I had hoped the DAP-led Pakatan Rakyat candidates would capture all the 15 urban Chinese-majority seats.

“After all, what effective representation in the government did the Chinese community have over the past five years,” he asked, reiterating that it was the same as having nothing at all. So he voted for change.

A typical sentiment among Chinese voters in Kuching that had allowed the opposition, especially the Democratic Action Party (DAP), to steal a big march on the Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP) in the five city seats on polling day.

From the community’s perspective, Oh’s argument is not without merit and the groundswell of discontent, precipitated by a feeling of being neglected and ignored, found expression through an unprecentented

swing of votes to the opposition.

The election verdict has been passed. SUPP has been shaken to the core by a political upheaval that left it with only two  seats in its long-standing bastion – the urban areas.

However, even before the dust of the electoral battle has settled, the community was thrown a lifeline by Senator Datuk Idris Buang who suggested certain defeated SUPP candidates be nominated for positions in the government via an amendment to the State  Constitution.

In this way, he said, qualified individuals such as defeated SUPP Pending candidate Prof Dr Sim Kui Hian could be given a role to represent the interests of the Chinese community in the government now that Dato Sri Wong Soon Koh (Bawang Assan) and Datuk Lee Kim Shin (Senadin) are the sole Chinese YBs left with a cabinet porfolio.

Likewise, political observers who concur with Idris, pointed out that former Assistant Minister in the Chief Minister’s Office, Larry Sng, could also be appointed to increase representation of the Chinese community in the government.

Such an arrangement has worked out well at the federal level as evidenced by the nomination of Datuk Seri Idris Jala as Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department. Idris was an apolitical figure before his appointment.

No punishment

Idris’ (Buang) argument is that even though SUPP lost 13 seats, there are still many Chinese in these constituencies who voted for BN.

As such, they should not be punished with the lack of representation  in the State government. His reading of the situation is also valid in that it meets the criterion of BN as a party for all races and communities.

On the other hand, Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah (PBB-Asajaya) disagrees with Idris, saying no representatives should be accepted  into the government  through the ‘backdoor’ — meaning, the losers  should bear the consequences.

A political analyst, Datuk Peter Minos, went even further to advocate  that SUPP should ‘close shop’ and start a new Chinese-based party to champion the community through the BN.

He also recommended that the four elected SUPP bumiputera assemblymen be given the option to choose the other three BN component parties — PBB, PRS and SPDP — to continue their political struggle.

However, most political pundits view such a move as too drastic and not in line with the BN spirit of compromise.

Unimas senior lecturer and political analyst Dr Jeniri Amir pointed out that the majority of the Chinese voters decided to go opposition because they wanted to send a message to the BN that they were unhappy with many pertinent issues which SUPP failed to address.

On the other hand, he argued, the bumiputera decided to stay with the BN because they wanted more development in their areas.

“But there are some exceptional cases where the BN lost such as in Ba Kelalan, Pelagus and Krian. This reason for the defeats is self-explanatory,” he said.

Prof Dr Frank Kiong of Open University stressed that most of the Chinese voted for the opposition because SUPP is no longer relevant to them as the party that could deliver on its promises.

According to him, the community believe the opposition, especially DAP, could assist at least by barking at the government over fulfilling the needs of the Chinese community.

Kiong also argued the government would have to give in as it still needs the support of the Chinese community.

At the other end of the spectrum, the majority of the bumiputera are still with BN, the parties representing them – PRS and SPDP – having lost only three seats between them.

Jeniri pointed out that the bumiputera still have a lot to do to catch with their more affluent Chinese counterparts.

He also said the bumiputera would continue to back BN as long as they are in need of development as most of them are still rural-based communities.

Jeniri’s view is shared by Dato Sri Michael Manyin who said the Bidayuh community have remained faithful to BN since 1996 as they are a minority and still need continuous development in their six constituencies.

And according to Jeniri, the same applies to the Malay-Melanau communities.

As for the Iban-based parties – PRS and SPDP – they have not emerged from the election completely unscatched – the former losing in Pelagus while the latter in Krian and Ba Kelalan.

In Krian, it has been suggested that the incumbent Datuk Peter Nyarok has overstayed his welcome while Willie Liau is a unknown entity who lost to PRK’s state chairman and long-standing NCR land lawyer.

In Pelagus, an ‘unseen’ hand  was widely believed to have been a factor in PRS’ setback.

However, the burning question right now is should the Chinese community be given a chance of greater representation in the  State Legislative Assembly through an amendment to the State Constitution?

Whether the nomination of defeated SUPP candidates will sit well with the electorate and the top BN leadership is opened  to debate. Ultimately, the solution lies in the hands of the  power-that-be, and perhaps, also the conscience of the would-be nominees?