SUPP was the biggest loser in the Sarawak election. It came out minus seven Chinese-majority seats and the Iban-majority seat of Engkilili. In Miri, Sibu and Sarikei, it saw its majority shaved off, portending a bleak future for its candidates in the next election.
Political observers called it the Chinese revolt against the Chinese-based party, which claimed to be championing the interests of the Chinese community in Sarawak. The experts gave the reasons for the about-turn in Chinese support as:
(1) SUPP leaders appearing to have lost the courage to stand up against Taib’s PBB on various issues, like the extension of leases for residential and commercial land, and high lease renewal premiums that affected urban Chinese.
(2) Some SUPP leaders perceived to be enriching themselves and failing to deliver what they had promised. The party had pledged in the 2004 parliamentary election that it would help relocate and rebuild the dilapidated Kuching Chung Hua Primary School No 2, but it was a case of ‘cakap ta’serupa bikin’ (didn’t walk its talk).
In many ways the SUPP is like the MCA in Peninsula. Allied to the more dominating PBB, like the MCA is to UMNO, the Chinese-based parties sometimes have to play the role of what Penangites termed as ‘air kow hor p’ang teng’, which translates into, 'mutes stung by hornets'.
The folksy saying has been a reference to the MCA feeling the painful stings of its dominating partner’s policies, decisions or actions which were or have been detrimental to Chinese interests, but unable (or afraid) to scream out in protest on behalf of its own Chinese constituency.
In the 1969 general election, the MCA was virtually decimated by a combination of the DAP, Gerakan and PPP, provoking a caustic remark from the late Tun Dr Ismail, who sneered that the MCA ‘hidup segan, mati ta’mahu', meaning ‘neither dead or alive’, a political zombie so to speak, and a phrase DPM Najib recently borrowed to describe the PKR.
The MCA’s worst political enemy is not the DAP, but UMNO, because every time UMNO issues a policy or course of action (many times without consulting or even prior advice to the MCA) that's detrimental or seen as detrimental to Chinese Malaysians, the MCA quakes and sh*ts in its underpants, because it knows that the Chinese would punish the party severely in the polls.
One good example would be the equivalent of the Kuching Chung Hua Primary School No 2 case that came about in Damasara, Kuala Lumpur, where a primary (Chinese medium) school was shut down by the Education Ministry against the wishes of the parents and teachers. The MCA didn't know where to put its face.
Another case of UMNO undermining the MCA happened several years ago, when Anwar Ibrahim was then Education Minister. Then his Sec-Gen of the ministry passed the compulsory instruction to schools that non-Muslim students must, during the school weekly prayers, raise their hands like Muslims do. That was unmitigated unjustified proselytising, akin to, say, the Italian Education Ministry demanding all including Muslim students cross themselves like Catholics do, once a week at school.
Needless to say, the MCA then wished they could disappear from the face of the earth. I can tell you that each time UMNO does that sort of insensitive stuff to Chinese Malaysians, DAP would be smiling, while MCA would be tearing what little left of its hair off its head and putting the curse of T'or Tee Kong (The Lord of Hades) on the UMNO policy maker.
An elder relative told me that Anwar Ibrahim, who was coincidentally away overseas when the crude insensitive proselytising order was issued, commented glibly on his return that non-Muslim parents should treat the Muslim praying posture as one of ‘universal value’ – yeah, just like the Buddhists putting their hands together in Indian greeting style, or the Catholics crossing themselves. I am sure many non-Muslim parents would have like to see him make the Muslim students do those gestures of 'universal value'.
The beneficiary of the UMNO insensitive decision-making has been the DAP. But UMNO obviously had acted, acts and will act for its own benefit above those of its MCA, MIC or any other 'partners'. UMNO is more than just the primus inter pares (first among equals) in the BN, because in the BN there's no equal to UMNO - it only tolerates the other parties like MCA, Gerakan, MIC etc as mere window dressing to its public facade of a pretend-coalition.
While the situation for the SUPP isn't yet as bad as that for the MCA, one day it may eventually go the way of the latter. That will be the day when the SUPP candidates will be seeking ‘safer’ seats for federal parliament in PBB strongholds, because they would be so discredited in the eyes of the Chinese that they would need to hide behind big brother's sarong to survive elections, just like the MCA.