SUPP leaving Barisan Nasional – Power tussle – Najib and Billionaire Chief Minister

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By Wong Choon Mei

It looks like things have come to a head at the Sarawak United People’s Party or SUPP, and it may soon leave the ruling BN coalition as a power tussle intensifies between embattled Prime Minister Najib Razak and Sarawak Chief Minister Taib Mahmud.

If SUPP does withdrawn from the BN, it would be the first component party to do so after Sabah’s SAPP pulled out in 2008. More than that, an SUPP exit would confirm the already very visible cracks in the BN and trigger a much-anticipated dismantling of the 13-member group.

“It is to be expected because Umno is taking too strong a role and is demanding too much. The return of Mahathir Mohamad and his hardline Malay supremacy policies is also scaring everyone. The people can sense Najib has lost control of Umno and BN members are wondering what will happen to them,” PKR vice president Tian Chua told Malaysia Chronicle.

“Times have changed and the rakyat (populace) won’t tolerate an iron hand like Mahathir’s like in the olden days. Some like the SUPP for example may think it is wiser to leave and salvage some reputation and dignity before GE13. In SUPP case, there is also the Taib Mahmud factor and this makes it worse. By leaving BN, they are saying goodbye to both Umno and Taib. This way they can still hope to win some seats rather than be wiped out totally.”

Bye-bye to both Umno & Taib

Tian was responding to news that almost all the SUPP central committee had demanded the party’s exit from the Sarawak BN over the weekend. SUPP chief Peter Chin, the federal Minister for Energy Green Technology & Water and regarded as belonging to the Najib camp, could not deny that such an incident took place, nor that he had been slammed for being “weak”.

“No comment. They can say I am a weak president. That is their opinion,” Chin told reporters.

Among complaints raised at the SUPP meeting was that Taib had “mistreated, ignored or sidelined” their party ever since Chin took over as party president from George Chan. Not only did Taib treat Chin with suspicion, perhaps because of the Najib link, the Chief Minister made it a point to give face to Wong Soon Koh, an SUPP stalwart who had competed with Chin for the party presidency after George resigned.

“Taib deliberately ignores Chin, who is not only the president of a Chinese-based party, but also a federal minister. Instead Taib gives Wong so much face and the ‘power’ to deal with the Chinese community even though he is not the president of the party,” a party member was reported as saying by Malaysiakini.

Taib snub for Najib and his men

While Taib publicly endorses Najib, it is clear that the scars incurred during the 2011 Sarawak state elections have not healed. Najib had then publicly announced Taib would not remain in office for the full 5 year mandate but may resign after 2 years.

Taib, the most powerful person in Sarawak and allegedly the richest man in Malaysia, did not take kindly to Najib’s hint and earlier this month indicated he would stay the full course.

“It would appear that Taib’s speech today is specially meant for Najib’s ears, with the unmistakable message that he is not going to honour his understanding with Najib. A test of wills between Taib and Najib is currently underway, with Taib thumbing his nose at the Prime Minister, defying Najib to see who can last longer politically,” said DAP adviser Lim Kit Siang said in a statement.

“Taib is confident that Najib is too weak politically to try to enforce their understanding before the Sarawak elections that he is to be chief minister for only two years.”

‘Umno-nising’ Sarawak

Taib and Najib are also at odds over the Sarawak Workers Party, where Taib’s protege Larry Sng is now the president. A piqued Najib, who is jostling with Taib to put his own men to contest in the coming 13th general election, had described Larry’s move to SWP as “illogical and irrational and non-consistent” and that it might trigger further infighting in Sarawak BN.

Taib is also suspicious that Najib and Umno are behind a plot to topple him by exposing shocking scandals of his family’s corruption and abuse of power.

Just days ago, Najib was accused of trying to shield Taib from investigation by the Malaysian Anti Corruption Commission but Opposition politicians said it was also a clear warning to Taib that he had overstayed his welcome and should consider resigning if he did not wish to be charged.

With Taib out of the way and a more pliant leader at the helm, Najib could then expand Umno’s footprint in Sarawak as Mahathir did in Sabah in the 1980s. Such a move would win Najib the immediate support of his party and save him from a challenge from his own deputy Muhyiddin Yassin.

Internal grousing

SUPP party members are also upset with Chin for failing to punish certain ‘rebels’ for not toeing the party line and only issuing a warning. These ‘rebels’ have been accused of boycotting functions and meetings, and even sabotaging SUPP interests.

Chin’s supporters however say his hands were tied as six of them are state ministers, assistant ministers and elected representatives. They are Jerip Susil, the Assistant Minister of Public Health; Lee Kim Shin, the Assistant Minister of Sports and Communications; Francis Harden, the Assistant Minister of Rural Development; Ranum Mina, the Opar state assemblyperson; Johnichal Rayong, the Engkilili state assemblyperson; and Tiong Thai King, the Lanang MP.

SUPP watchers have warned the party’s bickering was reaching a stage where implosion was inevitable and this was bound to dislodge it from the BN.

Proxy war intensifies

In last year’s state polls, SUPP only managed to retain 6 state seats out of 15 it contested, losing mostly to the DAP. In the next general election, only seats in the federal Parliament are up for grabs.

Speculation has swirled Taib might sponsor independent candidates or the SWP to fight the candidates selected by Najib.

“It looks like Najib and Taib will fight a proxy war by supporting different sets of candidates. Taib also wants all Sarawak MPs to be obedient to him but Najib has insisted that he will do the final selection instead of leaving it up to the respective parties. This means Najib will plant candidates loyal to the central or federal leadership and not to Taib personally,” said Tian.

Sabah and Sarawak hold enough seats in the Malaysian Parliament to affect the outcome of the 13th general election, which must be held before June 2013. Of the 222 parliamentary seats, 25 are in Sabah and 31 in Sarawak, giving the pair a combined 25% control of the august House. -hornbillunleashed