Riot needs a bridge over Serian’s troubled waters

SUPP's Datuk Seri Richard Riot faces a sticky situation in his Serian parliamentary constituency with at least four prospective candidates from PBB said to be interested to be nominated to stand in GE14.

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Are you from Serian, Sarawak? If you are, do you know that there is a town also called ‘Serian’ in Punjab, Pakistan?

Anyway, when we Sarawakians talk about Serian, we all think of Serian town — the friendly and vibrant Bidayuh town on the outskirt of greater Kuching.

It is a town on the rise and within another two decades, it will become the biggest satellite city of greater Kuching.

As is apparent to all, the town is flourishing. Serian was elevated to a division last year and will continue to grow due to its strategic position along the Pan-Borneo Highway which gives it an edge and a niche over other towns.

But most important of all, the town has been booming because the Bidayuh community in the area are overall well-educated. Although they are learning fast, the leaders of the community generally maintain a very humble disposition (except one who is known to be arrogant). It is thus easy to miss that the community has been progressing steadily to become a strong and formidable force in Sarawak politics. For example, with a small population of 200,000, the community now has one full federal minister, two deputy ministers, one full state minister and two assistant ministers.

Located only 45 minutes away from Kuching city, Serian town also supplies many of the primary products and necessities such as human capital needed to propel growth in Kuching.

Another notable point is that the completion of Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg’s light transit rail (LRT) will open up new opportunities for the Serian community where the town is expected to experience another boom period of development and an explosion of commercial activities.

There are already yet-to-be completed shophouses there selling for more than RM1 million each lot as of today. Would we not expect Serian’s development to explode with another boom that will shake up Sarawak after the completion of LRT?

While business and economic activities are growing rapidly, the underlying political current is no less quiet or calm.

The Serian parliamentary seat has been held by Sarawak United Peoples’ Party’s (SUPP) Datuk Seri Richard Riot since 1990 until now.

Riot being tall and good looking, friendly and fun, has always been very popular in the constituency. He can dance and sing, and is willing to dance the ‘joget’ with his constituents throughout the night. What is most important is, whenever his constituents seek him out for personal financial aid, he sees to it his needy constituents are not left wanting.

His charm and his close association with the grassroots has carried him safely through many troubled waters for the last 27 years, over six general elections.

But what he is facing today is, perhaps, the stormiest of all. The breaking news of his men’s involvement in grand scale embezzlement of government funds can no longer be swept aside through a graceful ‘joget’ move or a room-reverberating rendition of ‘Di Tepi Pantai Yang Indah’, his favourite song.

Will his deep-rooted influence within the area and his close relationship with his constituents neutralise the negative news that has smeared his public image so badly? It is hard to tell this moment as the amount involved has been big, perhaps too big for the constituents to forgive and forget.

However, what will be most damaging to Riot is not the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) case investigating his men. After all, Riot who is the Human Resources Minister has yet to be implicated.

The most immediate threat he is facing is the PBB-linked Bidayuh boys who are already actively moving on the ground, all of whom are highly qualified and highly educated.

Among the four, there are three PhD holders and a teacher who is nearing retirement.

Among the three PhD holders, the youngest one, who is an associate professor, is only in his 40s while the other two are both in their 50s.

And among the two PhD holders in their 50s, one of them is a high ranking officer in a government enforcement agency.

What Riot has to worry about is not so much about their qualifications and presence. What will surely make him lose sleep is the party these boys are from. Between SUPP and PBB (Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu), the voters might sway to PBB — after all it is currently the strongest and most powerful party in Sarawak.

The Serian parliamentary seat consists of the state seats of Tebedu, Kedup and the new seat of Bukit Semuja.

All three state seats are already under PBB. What is there to stop PBB from taking over Serian since PBB has broken the unwritten power-sharing principle between the party and the three other Barisan Nasional (BN) component parties during former PBB president Pehin Sri Adenan Satem’s time as the chief minister?

Presently, of the 31 parliamentary seats in Sarawak, the division of seat allocations among the four component parties are as such: PBB with 14 seats, SUPP with seven, Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) with six, and Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) with four.

The ratio between PBB to its component parties is 14: 17. There is room to still change the numbers. A ratio of 15:16 would not reflect badly on PBB as the state seat allocation has already shifted after the 2016 state election where PBB alone holds 45 state seats — more than a simple majority within the State Legislative Assembly which has a total of 82 seats.

Putting aside the aspiring candidates, just based on a simple comparison of election machinery between PBB and SUPP in Serian, it does not take a rocket scientist to know who would win if one of the PBB boys were to be fielded as an independent.

And considerating the fact that United People’s Party (UPP) is taking aim at every SUPP seat, Riot might even have to face the prospect of an additional rival from UPP which may enter the fray to try its luck.

Therefore, it may not be too paranoid now for SUPP to protest against PBB boys for their overzealous involvement in the constituency if the party still wants to secure the seat.

As for Riot, what he needs is a bridge over these troubled waters.

This bridge that he needs could be built overnight if SUPP president Datuk Dr Sim Kui Hian manages to convince both state BN chairman Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg and national BN chairman Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak that BN tradition and the years-long understanding of power-sharing needs to be respected and adhered to, and that the seat which has been allocated to SUPP should continue to be so.

Only the top BN leadership can tell PBB what to do and if SUPP wants the seat, it should make its move fast. — DayakDaily