By Joseph Tawie
SIBU – The fight for the control of Bandar Sibu between Sarawak DAP chairman Richard Wong Ho Leng and a new comer Robert Lau Hui Yew of SUPP in the forth- coming by-election scheduled for 16 May is expected to generate not only great interest among the public, but one that has many political implications.
Too much is stake for both sides of the political divide. If DAP is to win it, it will mean SUPP is going to suffer in the coming State election. Likewise, if SUPP is to win it, it will mean, the road to Putrajaya will be closed.
“If we win this by-election, it is the signal that we are marching towards Putrajaya,” DAP national adviser Lim Kit Siang declared over a dinner in Sibu. He knows that the next target is the other 30 parliamentary seats.
Currently the Opposition has one seat – the Bandar Kuching seat – to its credit.
Sarawak which has 31 MPs is being considered the “fixed deposit” of the Barisan Nasional.
The by-election has been called following the death of the MP for Sibu and deputy minister of transport Robert Lau Hoi Chew on 9 April.
Nomination day has been set for 8 May.
After the Hulu Selangor by-election, all the nation’s eyes are now focused on the Sibu by-election as to which party has the support of 54,695 voters, 66% of this total are Chinese voters. The rest are Malay/Melanau voters forming about 17%, followed by Ibans 15% and the rest are Bidayuh, Orang Ulu and Indian voters.
There are 2,537 postal voters.
Despite Robert Lau junior being a “greenhorn”, the Barisan Nasional-SUPP is confident that he will retain the seat for the Barisan Nasional.
“The Prime Minister is impressed with his credentials,” said Sarawak Barisan chairman and Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud when announcing the candidacy of Robert Lau who is a lawyer and a Sibu councillor.
Some consider the by-election is even more interesting as it is held immediately on the heel of the recently concluded Hulu Selangor by-election in which the Barisan Nasional has reclaimed the seat even though it lost Chinese votes heavily to Pakatan.
“That is the reason why the by-election has generated so much interest among the politically conscious people, because they are interested to know how the Chinese in Sibu will vote. Will they vote for SUPP or DAP?” asked a political observer.
And according to the voting trend in the 2008 parliamentary election, only about 40% to 45% of the Chinese voted for SUPP’s Robert Lau. Lau’s victory was due to votes coming from Iban, Malay/Melanau and postal votes.
Had it not been for these votes, the result of the last election in this constituency might have gone to Wong Ho Leng of DAP who secured 15,903 as against 19,138 obtained by the late Lau – a majority of 3,235 votes.
Few factors which are going to influence the general voting pattern of the Chinese in the country are UMNO’s support for the “ultra” Perkasa whose aim is to protect Malay rights allegedly threatened by Chinese and others. The other is Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s declaration that he is Malay first and Malaysian second. As such Prime Minister Najib’s 1Malaysia concept appears to be hollow.
These are some of the factors that have hardened some Chinese to be “anti” Barisan Nasional and this “anti” feeling was clearly displayed in the Hulu Selangor by-election. This feeling may spread to the Sibu by-election and have some adverse implications against the SUPP candidate.
“This is the reason that makes the Sibu by-election not only interesting, but a very important one as it will determine the degree of support of the Chinese for the Barisan Nasional particularly SUPP,” said a veteran politician.
He said: “SUPP needs to know this so that it can plan its election preparations accordingly for the coming state election that may be called any time now so that it can recapture the eight seats it lost in the last election.”
But on the other hand, SUPP has the advantage of huge financial resources and the whole government machinery behind it.
The announcement last week in Sibu by Deputy Prime Minister of RM200 million is considered to be the first “down payment” to end the perennial flooding that has caused hardship and damage to properties.
Another RM2 million has also been allocated to five Chinese and mission schools after years of complaints.
More “goodies” from the Barisan Nasional are expected to be dished out in the days leading to the by-election. And with such “goodies” how can the BN lose in the Sibu by-election? Such “goodies” if they did miracle in the Hulu Selangor by-election, surely will do the same in Sibu.
From past experiences, Chinese are not easily attracted to such “goodies”. Such being the case, it is obvious, however, that SUPP cannot depend on Chinese votes alone. That will be disastrous. So the most important thing is for the party to go all out not only to maintain the votes coming from the Iban, Malay and Melanau communities, but to increase the votes manifold.
Needless to say, SUPP will have to work very hard, leaving no stone unturned to ensure its victory. Even though losing and winning the by-election does not change anything, SUPP, however, regards it as the most important barometer to gauge how much support SUPP has from the Chinese especially after they revolted against the party in the 2006 State election.
“We have to work very, very hard to win this by-election. The victory here is particularly very important for us and I believe Robert Lau Hui Yew, being young, can give us that victory badly needed to present a new image for the party in our election preparations,” said SUPP president George Chan at a recent press conference.
“I do not know what issues they (Opposition) can raise; to me, there are no more issues, but I do know that the Opposition is capable of manufacturing issues,” said Chan.
“But this time around I am confident with the support of the federal government in terms of financial allocation the Chinese voters will come back to support us,” said Chan.
After all, he said, BN and SUPP through the late Lau have done so much to transform Sibu into a modern city.
On the other hand, DAP is all out to wrest the seat from SUPP. It had done it before in the 1982 parliamentary election and it almost captured it in the last parliamentary election, if it were not because of the postal votes.
“There is no reason why DAP cannot win this by-election. Nothing is impossible,” said the DAP adviser.
For the DAP, it has plenty of campaign issues to exploit: education, Chinese schools, floods, land issue, the alleged discriminative policies of the State government against the Chinese, and weak SUPP leadership.
The fact that none of SUPP’s elected representatives either MPs or assemblymen, dares to raise issues that concern the Chinese community is an issue.
It is seen that the Chinese community needs the Opposition to do the “barking” like complaining about the failure of SUPP to protect the interest and welfare of the ordinary men on the street, the hawkers and the small time traders and contractors.
Many of these small time hawkers, traders and businessmen have closed shops or have been declared bankrupt or moved away to other towns due to lack of development, employment and business opportunities in Sibu.
More over, DAP has been highlighting Taib’s policies that have made the rich becoming richer and the poor becoming poorer, as the State resources – forests, timber and lands – have been squandered and plundered to benefit close family members and cronies.
SUPP being part of the government is being blamed for such a policy.
Other than the above issues, DAP together with its Pakatan partners must make some efforts to go to some 100 Iban longhouses in the constituency, where the Ibans not only have been neglected in terms of major development, but have also their native customary rights lands taken away from them.
Their lands at the Sibentek and Bukit Tanggie areas, once planted with rubber under the rubber planting schemes in 1970s are now under the names of big towkays. Their protests have been ignored.
While both sides have plenty of issues to talk about and explain to the voters, at the end of the day, the voters will make a decision.