Sarawak polls: Whither the Chinese votes?


KUCHING – With days to go before Sarawak goes to the polls, eyes are on how the Chinese community will vote in the 16 of 82 constituencies where they hold sway.

Often seen as opposition supporters in the largely urban areas, Chinese voters at large have had to grapple with new realities of sustaining livelihoods under the COVID-19 pandemic and to re-examine their leanings in the changing political landscape in the state and nationally. 

The tussle for the Chinese seats would be an intense fight between the ruling Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) component, Sarawak United Peoples’ Party (SUPP) against DAP and Parti Sarawak Bersatu (PSB).

Datuk Richard Wee, who wears several hats as a community leader, feels a “slow changing wind”  is blowing towards the ruling GPS led by Chief Minister Tan Sri Abang Johari Tun Openg. 

“The Chinese are warming up to the state government because it is a local government to govern ourselves. Even more now, Sarawak Chinese value and treasure the political stability and the racial, religious and cultural harmony they have and no longer take it for granted after watching what’s happening in Peninsular Malaysia.” 

“Generally, the Chinese are tired of all these uncertainties especially in these times of economic hardship and COVID-19,” he said.

Wee is president of the Federation of Chinese Associations in Kuching, Samarahan and Serian division, the umbrella for 121 associations with each having between 500 to 1,000 individual members. He also heads the Federation of the Chinese Associaitons of Sarawak and Kuching Hockien Association. 

Wee said he was criticised by DAP last year for saying that more Chinese urban voters would throw their support behind GPS.

“I merely stated that (as) I was asked by a local media for my view. If I am right, so be it. If I am wrong, I stand to be corrected. I never urged the Chinese to vote GPS,” he added.

For the first time, the four GPS parties are contesting as an all-Sarawak alliance, no longer under the Barisan Nasional banner. It comprises Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB) under Abang Johari’s leadership, SUPP, Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) and Progressive Democratic Party (PDP).

DAP, the opposition flagbearer, has come under flak, slammed for allegedly failing to keep its promises to the state when it was part of the short-lived federal Pakatan Harapan government and after a decade, the party led by state chief Chong Chieng Jen is being scrutinised over its services to the people. 

“DAP, in a sense, is on the defensive but they still have a lot of die hard supporters. The question is whether they can rally these supporters to vote. If the voter number is low, it would have an adverse effect on them,” said Oh Ei Sun, Senior Fellow at Singapore Institute of International Affairs.

A new wind is definitely in the air for SUPP, says political analyst Dr Lee Kuok Ting of Universiti Malaysia Sabah, who expects SUPP to better its performance of winning six Chinese and one Dayak seat from contesting 13 in 2016.

 “I believe more Chinese will be voting for SUPP. From my conversations with people on the ground in Kuching, the narratives are different now. They want things to change for the better to improve their lives and livelihood,” said Lee.

SUPP is standing in all the Chinese constituencies except Dudong in which GPS has fielded PDP president Datuk Seri Tiong King Sing. It will be clashing with DAP and PSB in 11 seats.

PSB has stayed out of Padungan, Batu Kawah and Repok. The party led by veteran politician Datuk Seri Wong Soon Koh is making its debut and is perceived as a credible contender among the raft of new opposition parties contesting.  

SUPP president Datuk Seri Dr Sim Kui Hian is expected to have the advantage to retain Batu Kawah where his main opposition is DAP’s Dr Kelvin Yii.

Padungan, touted as one of the hottest seats, is a match between DAP’s Chong and SUPP’s Datuk Wee Hong Seng, who is the Kuching South Mayor. Chong is contesting there in lieu of previous party winner Wong King Wei who left the party last year to be an independent and is not seeking a third term.

Bawang Assan is on the radar because it is the seat of the PSB president who retained it in 2016 as a government candidate. He is in a five-cornered fight this round and GPS is placing its stake in SUPP’s Robert Lau.

Early balloting began today for police and security forces ahead of Saturday’s polls.