By Lian Cheng
ANYONE watching the video of Parti Sarawak Bersatu (PSB) president Dato Sri Wong Soon Koh announcing his stepping down from the cabinet on July 15 would have to admit that he does not look his age at all, despite being a 77-year-old; and the refined manner he delivered his eloquent and well-articulated speech was indeed, very impressive.
And yes, the speech was not only well delivered, but a few crucial points were clearly put across – that he did not step down instantly after PSB Annual Delegates’ Conference (ADC) because it was Asian culture to properly seek permission from the superior who appointed him; that he knew how to read the writing on the wall; that he was worried the reserve which he built up over the past 15 years as the Second Finance Minister would be squandered within two years; that PSB shared the same vision with Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) and that he still supported Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg.
One must say that not many in the cabinet possess what he has and perhaps that is why Soon Koh made it quite effortlessly to almost the top and commands considerable influence, while his contemporaries or seniors in the then Sarawak United Peoples’ Party (SUPP) were either off-loaded or faded into oblivion.
Yet, from another perspective, he did not reach the top a Chinese politician could possibly reach in Sarawak, which was the deputy chief minister post. At least, not yet.
Immediately after his resignation, word on the street and in coffeeshops of Sibu was that Soon Koh was actually “moving a step back but actually taking two steps forward”. There has been a very positive vibe and euphoric enthusiasm in coffeeshops in Sibu, a stark contrast to general perception on July 11, after news broke that no PSB members were named in the new councillors’ list, where whispers on the streets was – “Soon Koh is a gone case”.
Word had it that PSB with its resources would retain Dudong, Bawang Assan, Engkilili, Opar and could even capture most of the seats from Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) and SUPP after which Soon Koh would walk back straight to the Cabinet on his own merit, with his head held high.
Whether the positive perception bears any truth, Sarawakians will have to wait and see. PSB has at least two more years to prepare and prove its mettle by winning enough seats in the next state election to emerge as a force to be reckoned with.
So the question is, will PSB win all the seats it plans to?
PSB was still United People’s Party (UPP) when it contested in the 2016 state election. During that time, UPP was considered as “Plus One” of the Sarawak’s ruling coalition and their candidates were taken in as BN direct candidates. In all the seats it contested – Engkilili, Opar, Mambong, Bawang Assan and Dudong, it had the blessings of component parties of Gabungan Parti Sarawak (known as Sarawak Barisan Nasional then) especially that of Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB).
With PSB declared independent now, things would not be so simple as the 2016 state election. PSB will not only face PBB and other GPS component parties, it will also be up against Pakatan Harapan candidates in all the areas it contests. Both coalitions, with its vast resources and machinery, would not be easy to defeat especially in all Dayak or Bumiputera density areas where PBB undeniably wields significant influence. So will PSB fare as well as before? This question is especially relevant to all PSB seats of Opar, Engkilili, Bawang Assan and Dudong.
Opar is a Bidayuh seat while Engkilili, an Iban seat. Soon Koh’s seat, Bawang Assan and Datuk Tiong Thai King’s seat, Dudong which are made up of 44 per cent Dayak/Malay/Melanau voters, are more of mixed areas than Chinese majority seats. And following the implementation of the new policy of lowering the voting age to 18 and automatic registration of voters, it will not be too wrong to conclude that there will only be increased Iban and other Bumiputera voters in all the four areas.
Without PBB’s support, can PSB retain Opar, Engkilili, Bawang Assan and Dudong?
For Soon Koh and Tiong, they have another sets of problems with the remaining 50 per cent or more Chinese voters whose voting patterns in the past have not been in favour of Soon Koh and Tiong. In face of Parti Bumi Kenyalang and Sarawak Baru’s distinctive and vivid direction of Sarawak secession, will Soon Koh and Tiong be able to counter them with a more effective strategy?
Undeniably, Soon Koh has his charm and refined demeanour. Sad to say, they will not be enough for him to survive the next state election. For PSB to be the third force, defending their existing seats will not even be enough. The party needs a lot more.
Most important of all, Soon Koh must make sure that he keeps Bawang Assan in the next state election, or all his recent efforts will be in vain. — DayakDaily