Is UPP indispensable?

United People's Party logo


The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed recently between Sarawak United Peoples’ Party (SUPP) and United People’s Party (UPP) has brought forth numerous comments from both sides of the political divide. While there has been plenty of encouraging words from SUPP’s Barisan Nasional (BN) colleagues, saying that it is a ‘good start’ for both SUPP and UPP to bury the hatchet, there are others who are not so positive in their views. Some DayakDaily readers think that the MOU is just a ‘poor disguise’ created for the sake of the coming 14th general election (GE14), while others say that the MOU holds no water and has no bearing whatsoever.

One reader substantiated his negative remarks by saying that if UPP can ‘disregard’ the resignation of its whole team of representatives en-bloc during the late Pehin Sri Adenan Satem’s or Tok Nan’s time, there is no stopping them from turning their backs on SUPP this time round.

Precedent has been set. Alas the description of ‘sleeping on the same bed but having different dreams’ used to describe the opposition coalition is now befitting the Sarawak BN coalition. Sarawak BN, once a coalition proud of the solidarity between its component parties is now in turmoil with suspicions towards one another. The perception that ‘elected representatives own the seats they won’ has been allowed to flourish, if not so-called encouraged by the Sarawak BN coalition by allowing the mass migration of partyless elected representatives together with their seats into Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB).

Going back to the MOU, although SUPP’s president Datuk Dr Sim Kui Hian said that candidates nominated to contest in the party’s seven traditionally allocated seats have to be ‘under’ SUPP to contest in GE14, there is no guarantee that the adopted candidates from UPP will not resign, return to UPP and walk away with some of SUPP’s seats. Based on records, UPP seems to be allowed to walk in and out of SUPP as and when it suits them, without having to bear any consequences or disciplinary action from the BN coalition as a whole. To add salt to injury, UPP leaders were appointed into ministerial positions after the whole fiasco!

A DayakDaily reader questioned what is ‘so special’ about UPP that they were given special treatment? Is this group that important and indispensable to the existence of SUPP and BN? Forcing UPP to return to SUPP will not be a long-term solution for the coalition as a whole. One has to remember that the ultimate prize for the winner is becoming a party president in a BN coalition — and the very reason why UPP was formed was to compete against SUPP with the ultimate hope of replacing SUPP as the main Chinese-based party in the Sarawak BN coalition.

As long as the ultimate prize of the tussle is for party leadership — not just any party, but a party within the BN coalition — the risk of having either or both UPP and SUPP trying to outdo the other by winning more seats in the coming election is high. One less seat won by SUPP will equate to one less bargaining chip for SUPP when in-fighting for the president’s post starts again. Forcing SUPP and UPP to be ‘seen’ as working together in the coming GE14 is superficial at best and does not necessarily translate into voter support for either party and neither does it guarantee that their respective supporters will not undermine the other on the ground.

Admitting the ‘runaway’ BN faction back into SUPP in the name of Chinese unity might actually bring more harm than good in the long run, based on this perspective. Like the Chinese proverb, ‘one mountain cannot contain two tigers’ (which literally means within a kingdom, there can only be one king), perhaps it is time for BN as a coalition to face the truth, recognise their problem, grab the bull by its horns and get rid of the thorn in its side once and for all.

The fact that SUPP has lost much of its appeal as the champion for Chinese voters warrants the party to concentrate all its time and resources in reinvention to make itself appealing and relevant to the urban voters. Internal turmoil is the last thing SUPP needs as it will only weaken the party further.

The coming GE14 might prove to be a golden opportunity for our new Sarawak BN chairman Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg to deliver what his predecessors couldn’t achieve — dislodge UPP as a BN liability and allow SUPP to rebuild itself free from being held to ransom.

As long as the ultimate trophy for UPP is the position of party president within a BN coalition party, it is safe to presume that none of UPP leaders who harbour the intention of ‘having a future with BN’ coalition in the future will contest against BN. Since Abang Johari has axed the idea of having any direct BN candidate, once again, UPP is put in its right place where BN is indispensable to UPP while UPP is dispensable to BN.

If UPP is dispensable, then why the fuss of about having UPP back in the game with SUPP? According to some political observers in Sarawak, UPP has better chances of winning the parliamentary seats of Lanang and Sibu compared to SUPP. Besides having strong political machinery, UPP is rumoured to have strong financial support from major timber tycoons in Sibu.

To look at how dispensable UPP is to BN, let’s take a look at how much weight UPP has in determining victory or loss in the earlier mentioned seven parliamentary seats or if SUPP could do well even without UPP.

Sibu has total of three state constituencies, namely Bawang Assan, Palawan and Nangka. While Pelawan with its 90 per cent of Chinese voters is more or less a lost cause for SUPP, Bawang Assan under UPP president Dato Sri Wong Soon Koh has a total of around 45 per cent non-Chinese voters which translates to around 8,253 votes. Although Nangka has the least voters — around 18,000 — as far as constituencies within the Sibu Parliamentary seat is concerned, the predominantly Malay state constituency under PBB is a safe haven for BN, and hence a safe bet for SUPP. Chinese voters only contribute 27 per cent of the total votes in Nangka.

As far as Sibu is concerned, it is hence fair to conclude that the determining factor for SUPP in winning the Sibu Parliamentary seat rests on support from BN component parties, non-Chinese voters and how cohesive the machineries on the ground are in assisting SUPP. How much UPP will actually support BN in winning the seat for BN (not UPP), remains to be seen.

Lanang is another area claimed by UPP. The usual word of ‘winability’ again, is used. The Parliamentary seat has one state seat under BN and another under the opposition. The chance of winning Bukit Assek is very slim with the Chinese constituting nearly 90 per cent of voters here. The major deciding factor for Lanang therefore lies on the acceptance of Abang Johari as chief minister by the Chinese voters. The rest relies on Dudong’s non-Chinese voters who make up about 45 per cent of voters in the constituency.

Kuching and Stampin
Most political observers can agree that there is little to no chance for SUPP to wrest back the urban heartland from DAP. With or without UPP’s presence in SUPP, with or without UPP’s return into BN, the Parliamentary seats of Bandar Kuching and Stampin are as good as gone.

Serian is one of the safest seats for SUPP. With both Tebedu and Kedup having more than 90 per cent of non-Chinese voters, these areas are home to strong Bidayuh BN supporters. Most political observers can agree that the ‘dacing’ logo is the one that matters and UPP is immaterial as far as Serian is concerned.

In 2011, the year when the opposition was riding high, Party Keadilan Rakyat’s (PKR’s) Dr Teo Yu Keng won by a total of only 1,992 votes. The Parliamentary seat of Miri consists of three state constituencies. Out of the three, SUPP can look forward to having support from two, namely Piasau (which BN in the 2016 state election won by 2,112 votes) and Senadin (which BN won by 3,538 votes), while Pujut remains a stronghold of PKR with Pakatan Harapan coalition partner Democratic Action Party (DAP) winning the seat with 1,759 votes. The selection of candidate however for Miri by both SUPP and PKR is critical for this seat. With the rumours of Dr Teo to be replaced and with Dr Teo having indicated his ‘readiness’ to contest yet again, the looming battle at the polls should prove to be interesting.

Sarikei was won by DAP by a mere 505 votes in the 2013 general election. Comprising the two state constituencies of Repok and Meradong, DAP’s Wong Hua Seh managed to secure a simple majority of 2,679 votes in Repok while DAP’s. Ting Tze Fui received 2,687 votes going against BN’s Ling Kie King in the 2011 state election. BN secured both state seats in 2016 by simple majority of 943 votes and 1,516 votes respectively (total of 2,549).

Based on the overview as above, the point of view that UPP is indispensable might not be quite so founded. Somtimes in life, sacrifices have to be made for the good of all in the long run. The consequence of losing one or two borderline seats might not be as bad as giving UPP a foothold in SUPP, and holding the whole BN to ransom come the next state election.

Whether this argument is right or wrong, is anybody’s guess. However, if concession is given to the splinter party by the name of UPP, the next question that you and I will be so curious to know the answer to is ‘what is so special about UPP’ that the party should be accorded such special treatment by BN?

And one can’t help but question if there are some unknown factors that the leaders know about, that none of us have any idea of? — DayakDaily