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Published: Wednesday April 14, 2010 MYT 1:47:00 PM

Sibu by-election to see "Battle of the Mighty Rejang"

KUALA LUMPUR: The Sibu parliamentary by-election is regarded by many political analysts and party members as one of the toughest fights between two sworn enemies, the SUPP and the DAP.

Both parties know only too well that they cannot afford to lose the fight, dubbed “The battle of the mighty Rejang.”

“If you ask me to rate the importance of this election from a scale of one to 10, I’ll rate it at 11. This is how important it is to us,” said Sarawak DAP chairman Richard Wong Ho Leng.

Political analysts believe that both sides are on equal footing in terms of political strength, particularly after the last state election in 2006, where the DAP recorded its best performance against the SUPP in Sarawak.

Sibu, once an important trading and financial centre in Sarawak, has been the stronghold of both the SUPP and DAP in the central region of the state, dominated by Chinese of the Foochow clan. These two parties have been clamouring for their support for almost 30 years.

In the 1982 general election, the DAP created history by capturing this predominantly Chinese urban seat when Ling Sie Ming defeated Tan Sri Wong Soon Kai, who later become the SUPP president, with a razor thin majority of 141 votes.

When the adjacent Lanang parliamentary seat was first created in 1990, the seat also fell to the DAP when its popular young leader, Jason Wong Sing Nang, defeated SUPP leader Tieu Sung Seng with a majority of 3,973 votes.

It was also at this time that the late Datuk Robert Lau made his foray into the Sibu parliamentary seat. He triumphed and retained the seat for five consecutive terms before his death on April 9, prompting the by-election.

Following those defeats in 1982 and 1990, the SUPP had not lost in Sibu but it got a rude shock in the 1996 state election when it was defeated in two state seats, which were considered its strongholds Pelawan and Bukit Assek.

The Bukit Assek state seat (formerly known as Maling) used to be within the SUPP’s stronghold but in 1996 the then SUPP president and deputy chief minister Tan Sri Wong Soon Kai was unexpectedly defeated by Ho Leng with a majority of 226 votes.

The defeat of Wong, once considered one of the most illustrious politicians in Sarawak, in his hometown caused a major blow to the party and eventually brought an abrupt end to his political career.

Some political analysts even equated Wong’s defeat with that of Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu in Penang in the 1992 general election.

After Wong’s defeat, Tan Sri Dr George Chan was eventually elevated to party president.

But Ho Leng, despite his remarkable performance in trouncing Wong for the Bukit Assek state seat, was defeated by the SUPP’s young candidate, Daniel Ngieng, five years later. In the same state election, SUPP also managed to regain the Pelawan state seat through Vincent Goh.

Ho Leng made a comeback by wresting Bukit Assek from Daniel Ngieng in the last state election in 2006 with a bigger majority of 4,751 votes.

Despite the poor performance of the SUPP in the last state election, the party still managed to retain all its parliamentary seats except Bandar Kuching, which continues to be held by the DAP since the last general election.

However, some political analysts and watchers are wondering whether the same could be repeated in this by-election where the opposition, particularly the DAP, would draw support and help from outside Sarawak.

“In the last general election, the resources were more scattered. But now, all can be concentrated in one place. Moreover, national issues will be at the centre stage. That is why there is no guarantee that this time around it would be the same as before,” said an SUPP member.

“In fact, national issues were the cause of the party’s loss of the two parliamentary seats in 1982 and 1990,” he said.

With more than 2,000 security personnel from two army camps and the police force as well as some solid Malay votes from the Nangka area and Iban votes from Bawang Assan, collectively regarded as “Barisan’s safe deposits,” the support of the Chinese voters, who comprise about 60% of the total voters, will still be a major factor.

“If the DAP manages to get 70% of the Chinese votes, it could spell trouble for the SUPP even if it got the majority of the Malay and Iban votes,” said an SUPP analyst.

In terms of candidates, both sides know very well who the likely candidate from the SUPP is, and even the Sibu DAP was openly saying that it would be a battle between “Robert Lau Junior” of the SUPP and one of the eight DAP leaders in Sibu, including Ho Leng, or the possibility of a female candidate in newcomer Alice Lau.

“Robert Lau Junior” refers to councillor Robert Lau Hui Yew, 45, a lawyer by profession and the youngest son of prominent local businessman Lau Swee Nguong, the current chairman of the KTS Group of companies. The lawyer is also the second cousin of the late Robert Lau.

The other potential DAP candidates are former SUPP member Wong Ching Yong, David Wong, Stephen Lu and new faces Oscar Ling, Lau Hui Ung and Yap Hai Loi.

SUPP insiders also claimed that they knew who the likely DAP candidates were and had mentioned Ho Leng as one of the eight names. Narrowing down the list, they believed that it would eventually be either Ho Leng or Ching Yong. -- Bernama

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