Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Chinese face in government to dog BN Sarawak campaign

Ngieng believed the Chinese would back BN for fear of losing their voice in the administration. — file pic

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 25 — The next Sarawak election will be marked by concern over Chinese representation in the state government as the opposition is expected to do well in constituencies dominated by the community, while Barisan Nasional (BN) will continue to rule with the support of other groups.

The Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP), which represents the Chinese community in the state BN, is expected to harp on the risk of losing representation in the state government during the election campaign.

“Of course we are concerned about our representation in the government. Politics is a number game,” said SUPP central committee member Daniel Ngieng.

Ngieng was one of the SUPP candidates defeated in the last state election in 2006. He lost the Bukit Assek seat to the state Opposition Leader Wong Ho Leng.

For Ngieng, Chinese voters cannot afford to be outside of the government as other communities would continue backing BN.

“The Chinese are very realistic, they know they have no choice but to be with the government. The election is a foregone conclusion — the Bumiputera, Melanau, Orang Ulu will support the government. Where do they want to stand?” he told The Malaysian Insider.

The Chinese make up only 26 per cent of the Sarawak population, but they reside mainly in urban, more developed regions of Malaysia’s largest state.

There are two Chinese SUPP ministers in the Sarawak Cabinet and five assistant ministers.

The current term of the Sarawak assembly expires in July next year and the government is expected to call for state election by the end of this year.

The opposition collectively won nine seats in 2006, seven of which are Chinese-majority.

DAP currently controls six seats in the 71-member state assembly while PKR has one.

Another Sarawak BN leader, Datuk Joseph Salang, shared Ngieng’s sentiment, but was confident that SUPP would not perform worse than in 2006.

“I doubt that the Chinese support is very low. That is just a perception, the reality on the ground is different, but of course, there will be no Chinese minister if all of them lose their seats,” said Salang who is also a PRS vice-president.

“Unlike in Sabah or the federal government, there is a provision for the appointment [of] Adun (assemblymen) or Senator who can be made minister, but there is no such provision in Sarawak,” said Salang who is also the federal deputy information minister.

Another state leader admitted that SUPP is facing a tough challenge in the coming election and its survival within the coalition is also at stake.

“SUPP will have to change their strategy. The political scenario has changed and things no longer work in their favour,” said the assistant minister who refused to be named.

Meanwhile, political analyst Dr Jeniri Amir doubted that the fear of losing Chinese representation in the government would influence voters from the community into backing BN.

“There is nothing new in this campaign; in the last state election they used the same tactic. But in 2006, the Chinese did not buy it because [of] other more important issues,” Jeniri told The Malaysian Insider.

“This time it is about the unhappiness against the chief minister. So the Chinese, urban voters know that even if the SUPP representation in the government is reduced or increased, the CM is still in control of everything,” he added.

Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud has been in power for 29 years and is said to have been the source of discontent among urban voters for his alleged abuse of power. He said yesterday that he was undecided about standing for re-election.

“SUPP is seen to be weak and unable to protect the interests of the Chinese,” said Jeniri.

The Unimas lecturer said SUPP may have to rebrand itself to no longer be seen as an exclusively Chinese party.

“The party may have no choice but to nominate its Bidayuh leaders for Cabinet posts,” said Jeniri.

SUPP has two Bidayuh lawmakers in the state assembly. Last June the party made its sole Bidayuh parliamentarian Datuk Richard Riot the deputy foreign minister.

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