Party unity first, polls can wait, says new SUPP chief

KUCHING: Elected amidst much controversy, Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP) president Peter Chin is faced with the immediate task of uniting his deeply divided party, repairing its battered public image and winning back the Sarawak Chinese community’s respect, hopefully before the 13th general election.

In the run up to the party’s contentious triennial delegates conference (TDC) which ended in a presidential poll yesterday, a much-respected former SUPP president Dr Wong Soon Kai had aptly described Chin’s new challenges as ‘Herculean tasks’.

A pragmatic Chin whilst admitting to the tasks ahead said his biggest concern now is bring members of the rival faction led by former deputy secretary general Wong Soon Koh back into SUPP’s fold.

“That is my immediate task. To build the confidence among the Chinese community, we must first re-build the party’s structure and reorganise the branches.

“We must go back to our members first, and make them feel that they are part of the SUPP family

“We have reserved seven psost for Wong and some team menbers in the CWC.

“I have ample patience for them to come back to the party, and there is no time frame for the vacant posts to be filled,” he said.

But Wong, who is the state Minister for Local Government and Community Development as well as Second Minister of Finance, has reiterated his team’s stand that they will not accept any posts offered in the party unless and until a new TDC is properly held.

Wong had alleged irregularities in the party’s branch elections and had reported the party to the Registrar of Societies (ROS). He and his team had also boycotted the weekend’s TDC and claimed that Chin’s election was illegal because the TDC lacked a quorum.

Said Chin: “We are a democratic party. If they feel they need to lodge a report with ROS go ahead and lodge if you feel you are aggrieved.

“If you feel that ROS is the remedy you are seeking for, I cannot prevent you or you can appeal to the CC if you are not happy with the disciplinary action.

“But we have an internal system to deal with grievances,” he said.

SUPP stays with BN

On wooing the Chinese community and re-establishing ties with voters, Chin said SUPP will still stay within Barisan Nasional.

He declined to comment on the remarks made by the former SUPP’s immediate past president Dr George Chan that one of the reasons why SUPP lost badly in the last election was due to the party’s closeness to Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud.

The issue of SUPP being too ‘subservient’ to Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB) and Taib had irked the Chinese community so much that SUPP was almost wiped off the political slate.

Opposition DAP with its blaring billboard touting “You vote SUPP, you vote Taib” swiped away 13 of SUPP’s 19 seats. All of SUPP’s Chinese leaders except two were retained in the April 16 polls.

Said Chin: “We will stay with BN. We will work with BN. BN will give us leeway and we will work as a party within BN. This (the TDC) is a good start to convince the voters to vote for us,” he said adding that his committee will visit all branches and at the same time conduct installation ceremonies for branch committees to coincide with the Chinese New Year next year.

“We will do a series of ‘unity night’ functions,” Chin added.

Chin, who is the federal Minister of Energy, Green Technology and Water, said it was important that the Chinese community knew that SUPP would prioritise their welfare.

“One of the often cited reasons why the Chinese voters abandoned us in many constituencies because they think that we have not spoken up on issues affecting the Chinese community.

“I see that it is important to portray that SUPP is concerned for their welfare and their issues and in these areas we will do our best to SUPP as their voice,” he said.

Can SUPP survive DAP assault?

Meanwhile political observers are less confident about Chin’s appeal.

According to them, Chin’s transformation agenda offered nothing new for a party that is in dire need of a drastic and quick change in structure and content.

Admittedly this is the first time that the 51-year-old party has seen such a serious fight for the presidency. In the past successions had always been ‘pre-arranged’.

But with the 13th general election looming ahead, opposition DAP is expected to bulldoze SUPP to the ground.

Riding on its earlier victory in the state polls, DAP is expected to flog the same issues against SUPP.

SUPP has seven parliamentary seats – Serian, Stampin, Sarikei, Sibu, Lanang, Kuching and Miri – at stake.

Besides Serian, which is a mixed constituency with Bidayuhs forming more than 60% of the electorate, the other seats which are Chinese majority are dangerous tilted towards the DAP judging by the current mood of the voters.

The biggest question now is can Chin reunite the party and at the same time win the hearts and minds of the Chinese voters before the next general election?

It would appear that Chin is faced with a mission impossible, said a political observer. – FMT

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