Currently going through what many of its own members say is a sham party election this weekend, the Sarawak United People’s Party or Supp is the one in real “hot soup” for a change.
Factions including those aligned to presidential aspirant Wong Soon Koh, who pulled out a day ago in protest, say the least the Registrar of Societies could do is to order the party to halt its triennial general meeting (TGM) scheduled for Dec 10-11 until the alleged irregularities are rectified.
Amidst charges and counter-charges of massive fraud and irregularities in the party set-up, the various factions have been making daily visits to the RoS in Kuching. The result is the foregone conclusion that Supp would have to show cause why it should not be deregistered.
The party will probably face the same fate as the Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak (PBDS) which suffered the dubious distinction of being deregistered twice, in 2003 and 2004, and the Sarawak National Party (Snap) which was deregistered in 2002 before being given a new lease of life last year by the Court. However, the party has never recovered and remains comatose and on life-support.
PBDS’s deregistration was followed by the formation of the Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) by James Masing who created a crisis by challenging the assumption of the party leadership by founder Daniel Tajem Anak Miri, the Lion of the Ibans and Dayaks, from 1st President Leo Moggie Anak Irok. At the same time, Tajem was not allowed to register the Malaysian Dayak Congress (MDC).
New party on the cards
Soon Koh, the deputy secretary-general, has on his side 7 key party leaders, all either MPs or state assemblymen. Nothing could be more telling.
It’s predictable that these seven will form a new multiracial-based but Chinese-dominated party in Sarawak. The seven have been named as Richard Riot Jaem and Tiong Thai King, both MPs, and state assemblypersons Francis Harden Hollis, Lee Kim Shin, Dr Jerip Susil, Ranum Mina and Johnichal Rayong Ngipa. Ironically, five of the seven in the ostensibly multiracial but Chinese-dominated Supp are Dayaks.
Wong, also the State Minister of Local Government and Community Development, led a group of his supporters to meet RoS deputy director-general Fison Yahaya and Deputy Home Minister Lee Chee Leong in Putrajaya last week.
The focus of their visit was to list out their litany of woes and complaints against another major faction in the party led by Federal Minister of Energy, Green Technology and Water Peter Chin Fah Kui.
Both men are seeking to replace party chief George Chan who is being forced to step down. But really, the party could not have picked a worst time to wash its dirty linen in public.
Chin is seen to be Putrajaya's candidate, thereby making the infighting at the state level all the more passionate as few Sarawak-based members want their party to be under Prime Minister Najib Razak's thumb.
Another excuse for Najib to delay GE-13
The next General Election, the 13th, is due soon if Najib is to be believed. So far, Najib has put off getting his own mandate by latching on to one lame excuse after another. His latest excuse is the need for electoral reform before polls. This is like him claiming that free and fair elections can only benefit his ruling coalition and not vice versa. Now the on-going power struggle in Supp will give him yet another excuse to delay nationwide polls.
Supp could have put off its party polls, like other BN component parties including Umno, until after GE 13. However, party members wouldn’t hear of it especially after the electoral debacle in April last year in state polls and the need to exit party chief George Chan as soon as possible. Chan, whose daughter is married to Taib's younger son, Sulaiman, had pledged many times before to quit but each time went back on his promises.
To add insult to injury, Chan lost his Piasau seat and presided over the loss of another 12 of its 19 seats.
Betraying the Dayaks
The Supp story as it comes to a close, given the benefit of hindsight, is better understood given the historical perspective on politics in the state.
Supp was the most anti-Malaysia of the political parties in Sarawak and was even linked with the communist insurrection in the state. Supp had an ally in Snap president and Chief Minister Stephen Kalong Ningkan.
Sarawak politics have never been the same ever since Snap was robbed of the Chief Ministership when Ningkan was kicked out on 17 June 1966, a decision reiterated on 14 Sept in the same year after Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman declared a state of emergency in the state. The emergency followed a Court decision to restore Ningkan to his post which he first assumed on 22 July 1963.
The effects of the political curses the Dayak communities, the Iban in particular, showered on Tunku and Supp reverberates to this day throughout Sarawak and Malaysia and has struck a particular chord in neighbouring Sabah. The movement for autonomy is gathering momentum in the Land below the Wind and may even fan the fires of separatism, if not independence.
Supp has been accused of betraying the Dayaks; the Ibans in particular, by teaming up with the ostensibly Bumiputera but Muslim-dominated Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB). This has had the effect of cutting off the Ibans in particular from the Chief Minister’s post which has been held by Muslims after Ningkan and interim Chief Minister Penghulu Tawi Sli. Putrajaya fears that a non-Muslim Dayak Chief Minister would be more separatist-minded.
Snap splintered in 1983 to spawn the breakaway Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak (PBDS) after James Wong Kim Min, detained once under the draconian Internal Security Act (ISA) for plotting a purported Brunei takeover of Limbang, insisted on remaining party chief in a departure from the interim role he had been expected to play in the mainly Dayak-based but Iban-dominated multiracial party.
Snap was again embroiled in a leadership crisis just before 2002 when James Wong expelled Bintulu MP Tiong King Sing from the party on the grounds of indiscipline.
Following Tiong's expulsion, the party's leadership was split into two factions, with one group headed by Wong and the other by vice-president, William Mawan who went on to form the Sarawak Progressive Democratic Party (SPDP) after Snap was deregistered by the RoS.
De-registeration will benefit Pakatan
SUPP has been allotted seven parliamentary seats – Serian, Stampin, Bandar Kuching, Sibu, Lanang, Sarikei and Miri – under the BN power-sharing formula. Two of these seats, Bandar Kuching and Sibu, are already in the hands of DAP.
If Supp is deregistered, and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t considering the fate of PBDS and Snap, the party is likely to lose all these seats to Pakatan Rakyat, the opposition alliance.
The ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) cannot afford Supp to be deregistered and if this fate is averted by political intervention, it would be difficult to explain the PBDS, Snap and the MDC decisions.
In any case, even averting deregistration will not save Supp from the wrath of the people at the ballot box despite the party, at least Wong, steering the party against its patron and Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud since early last year.
The party has belatedly realised that it was bad politics to put all its eggs even more firmly in the Muslim basket, especially since Taib took office in 1981, and thereby cut itself off from the Dayaks as useful allies and a counter-weight against Putrajaya. The widely anticipated exodus of the Chinese in Sarawak from BN will shake up the state and Malaysia.