Analysts have questioned the future of the Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP) under the ruling Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) coalition following unhappiness over the distribution of seats for the upcoming state election.
Speaking to MalaysiaNow, they said the party had been experiencing difficulty over the loss of its traditional seats of Mambong and Dudong which were instead given to the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) and Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB).
The move was said to have been a last-minute decision, with the initial candidates from SUPP swapped out for Tiong King Sing of PDP in Dudong and Dr Jerip Susil of PBB in Mambung.
Jayum Jawan of Universiti Putra Malaysia said while the list of SUPP candidates came from party president Dr Sim Kui Hian, it was GPS chairman Abang Johari Openg who would have the final say in the matter.
“It is a dilemma for SUPP,” he added. “They are being pushed and are not retaliating.”
Sim himself had expressed disappointment, saying he was shocked by the move.
But Jayum said this was not the best response by the SUPP leader.
“His expression of surprise backfired,” he said. “It indicates that he is not in full command of SUPP like his predecessors were.”
He also warned that Sim’s reaction could hamper the party’s efforts to retain its remaining traditional seats.
The Sarawak election will be held on Dec 18, with multi-cornered fights to feature for all 82 seats in the state legislative assembly.
The biggest clash will take place in the Dudong constituency, where eight candidates including Tiong will be contesting for the seat.
Despite the setback for SUPP, Sim had pledged his support for all 82 candidates fielded by GPS.
But political observer James Chin of the University of Tasmania in Australia said it was possible that the SUPP machinery in Mambong and Dudong would not back the candidates from the other GPS component parties.
Speaking to MalaysiaNow, he said he does not expect the grassroots workers to willingly work with the PDP candidates.
“There’s nothing much that SUPP can do now,” he said. “But at the local level, when things like this happen, the party’s branch can ‘take revenge’ by ‘sabotaging’ the candidate.”
Chin said such things had happened in an “underground” manner for other seats in previous elections.
This, though, would require caution on the part of the party machinery, he added.
“If they get caught, they could be expelled from the party,” he said.
SUPP was once the second biggest party in Sarawak after PBB.
But Jayum said the loss of two of its traditional seats was a signal that Sim’s leadership was being challenged.
As a figurehead in SUPP, he said, Sim would have to speak up on the matter. He also said that Sim might be in for “more surprises”.
“If Tiong wins and enters the state legislative assembly, he will compete with SUPP for the traditional Chinese share as deputy chief minister,” he said.
Chin meanwhile said SUPP’s loss of the two seats could herald more change for the party in the days ahead.
“Losing its traditional seats means that the party could be further bullied in the days to come after the 12th Sarawak election,” he said.