By Joseph Tawie
KUCHING: Sarawak’s Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud’s long tenure in office has been cited as one of the reasons behind Sarawak United Peoples Party (SUPP) loss of 13 seats in the April 2011 state election.
This is the claim made by former deputy chief minister Dr George Chan in his book entitled ‘What Now?’ which was launched by Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak last December.
Chan who stepped down as SUPP president in December following his defeat in the Piasau seat said: “Another election issue that the opposition had brought up was the long tenure of Chief Minister Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud.
“His refusal to step down and appoint a successor became an unnecessary diversion from our achievements.
“The issue was further exacerbated by unfounded allegations of (Taib) amassing a huge fortune while in office which were posted in numerous websites especially the Sarawak Report,” he said.
Chan revealed that he had earlier been warned by a leader of Movement for Change Sarawak (MoCS) leader Francis Siah urging SUPP to abandon Taib or else the party would be buried, but he ignored it.
The warning was carried out widely in the local and national media as well as online newspapers.
The former DCM quoted Siah as saying that “SUPP must not be blind to the writing on the wall.
“For too long, the party has (had) an image of being a mere stooge of the Chief Minister. To continue supporting Taib now will seal the fate of SUPP. The others have enough of Taib”.
SUPP was warned
Siah said that SUPP had been barking from the inside for the past 40 years, and the party had been ineffective in looking after the interests of the Chinese.
“Only a few top SUPP leaders have benefited and had become immensely wealthy after barking inside for 40 years.
“So to the Chinese community, barking inside or outside does not make any difference.
“In fact the Chinese should now start barking against Taib from all corners – inside, outside, upside and down-side,” Siah said.
“Looking back, it seems what Siah said turned out to be factual. SUPP was almost buried after the April 16 election,” Chan said, referring to the loss of 13 out of 19 it contested.
Four of the seats were won by Dayak representatives of the party.
Chan who took over the leadership of the party from Dr Wong Soon Kai after the 1996 state election also cited other reasons for the loss of 13 seats.
These reasons include weak party organisation and publicity, SUPP perceived as a weak partner in the state government, fuel hike, land lease issue, state government contracts, open tender, and Chinese language education.
On government contracts, Chan said many Chinese businessmen were increasingly concerned about the lack of transparency and accountability on the awarding of the contracts.
Several large infrastructure projects were awarded without notice or open tender.
“We have to remember that business is the lifeline of the Chinese community and any perception of a lack of transparency and accountability in government contracts will cause them to turn against us,” he said.
Issues exploited by opposition
He suggested that state government contracts which were not complicated and complex in nature be awarded by way of open tender.
Referring to the Chinese education, Chan said that for many years now, the issues relating to the continued funding for Chinese schools, government support, building of new Chinese schools, new licences or relocation of existing Chinese schools and using English to teach mathematics remain unresolved.
“These issues were fully and effectively exploited by the opposition, and the party was perceived to be weak, ineffective and unable to correct the unpopular policies implemented or to be implemented by the state government,” he said.
Chan also warned the government that it should ensure that no community should be sidelined or victimised, especially in the opposition-controlled areas; otherwise there would surely be additional retaliation in the 13th general election.
“So we need to win them back. The Barisan Nasional needs to show that it also feels and cares for the urban voters,” he said.
On the book, he said that it reveals the happenings in Sarawak’s oldest political party in recent times, including tribulations it has gone through and which it is still going through, and the things it should do, – and not do – to stay relevant.
“My purpose of authoring this book is not to point the finger at anyone but to tell members and readers – from my perspective – the direction the party has to take from now.
“What Now?, is a must read for the younger readers and the busy people who might not have had the luxury of time to go through scores of newspaper articles about SUPP,” he said. – FMT