Bandar Kuching outgoing Dr Kelvin Yii of the Democratic Action Party (DAP) will again face his former rival Kho Teck Wan of the Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP) in the 15th General Election (GE15 )?
DAP Sarawak announced on Sunday evening that Yii will defend the parliamentary seat in this election. The announcement comes as no surprise given its performance over the past five years.
However, neither the SUPP nor the Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) have announced their candidate, although the Kuching, Pending and Batu Lintang SUPP branches have submitted their recommended candidates to the central party leadership for consideration.
Reliable sources claim that Kho, who is the female SUPP leader, is one of the three names submitted and she was recommended by the SUPP Pending branch.
She competed as a greenhorn for Bandar Kuching on a Barisan Nasional ticket in 2018 and was beaten by Yii in her first election win by a whopping 35,973 votes. Yii garnered 48,548 votes.
The other two potential SUPP candidates, according to sources, are Sih Hua Tong and Eric Tay Tze Kok, recommended by Batu Lintang branch and Kuching branch respectively.
Sih is not an unknown name to many Kuchingites as he unsuccessfully contested three elections for Batu Lintang State constituency. Tay, meanwhile, is a new face.
Discussions are rife that South Kuching Mayor Datuk Wee Hong Seng may also be in the running to be GPS Bandar Kuching’s candidate, although the name of the branch’s vice president is reported to be SUPP Pending is not in the list of proposed candidates.
Still, the possibility of GPS putting Wee in the predominantly Chinese seat cannot be ruled out as the ruling coalition is focused on the possibility of winning.
He contested the GPS ticket for Padungan in last year’s state elections and lost, but managed to reduce the DAP’s majority to 1,198 votes in a four-way fight which was won by the president of State of the opposition party, Chong Chieng Jen.
It is widely believed that one of the reasons Wee lost in the polls was that Kuching’s SUPP branch withdrew its support due to disagreements over his candidacy. So to win in GE15, he will need all the support he can get.
Apart from Padungan, the GPS also lost pending and Batu Lintang – the three seats that make up Bandar Kuching.
However, the reduced majority of votes for the opposition in all three seats at the end of last December’s state elections was taken as an indication that Chinese voters’ support for the SUPP and the GPS is growing.
Meanwhile, DAP’s Violet Yong won a majority of 540 votes to 5,012 in 2016 state polls.
And in Batu Lintang, See Chee How won on a Party Sarawak Bersatu (PSB) ticket by a slim margin of 93 votes to 4,385 in 2016. See has since left the PSB to become an independent MP.
Indeed, Bandar Kuching is a popular seat in Sarawak, as it is where the state capital is located and the DAP has represented the constituency more times than the ruling coalition.
The late Sim Kwang Yang, the current leader of the DAP Chong Chieng Jen and Yii served seven terms in total, compared to five for the BN or the SUPP.
The last BN MP was Datuk Song Swee Guan, who after serving two terms lost the seat to Chong in 2004.
On the outside, Bandar Kuching certainly appears to be the stronghold of the DAP, but no one can be certain what is going on beneath the surface, especially with the fall of the government led by Pakatan Harapan (PH) in February 2020, barely 22 months after the coalition snatched Putrajaya from BN in the 2018 polls.
Let’s also not forget that a lot has changed in Sarawak politics since the 2018 polls – BN is no longer in control. The GPS is the new ruling state coalition and November 19 will be its first national election.
As such, the GPS has a lot to prove in the upcoming polls and winning Bandar Kuching might just be what the coalition needs to do to show it has indeed arrived.
Still, a determining factor in this election will be turnout, and it’s worth noting that the 12th state election saw a fairly low turnout, with just over 60% of eligible voters casting their ballots amid concerns of the spread of Covid19.
Given the low turnout in recent state polls, it is indeed difficult to say whether voters in Bandar Kuching have truly embraced the new ruling coalition.
Therefore, if this general election continues to see low voter turnout and if the result of the latest state polls is any indication, the GPS could very well win Bandar Kuching, but only if the ruling coalition picks the right candidate.