Last Sunday, Sarawak Education, Science and Technological Research Minister Datuk Seri Michael Manyin Jawong said it was a foregone conclusion that the Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) government would win all of the eight Bidayuh state legislative assembly seats “hands down”.

A brave statement given the fact that the eight Bidayuh seats are still controversial because it involves different groups in the coalition comprising four components — PBB, SUPP, PRS and SPDP.

To add to the challenge of making a clean sweep is solving the unity problem between two of its components, Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP) and its splinter party, Parti Sarawak Bersatu (PSB).

Led by Datuk Seri Wong Soon Koh, PSB was part of the SUPP family until the party started to crack in 2011, leading to the final breakup in 2014.

In Dec 2017, six months before the 14th general election, former Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had tried to bring the two factions together. He warned that SUPP and PSB (then known as United People’s Party or UPP) should reunite or suffer the consequences.

Najib in his speech at the closing of the 24th SUPP Triennial Delegates Conference said, “I ask that the dispute be resolved once and for all. We must go to war as a solid front. One BN, one SUPP!”

“I believe (Chief Minister) Abang Johari has a formula to resolve it before GE14, for SUPP to become a solid party again as one SUPP.”

However, in GE14, the Sarawak coalition unexpectedly lost two valuable parliamentary seats for the very first time when Pakatan Harapan’s representative Willie Mongin (Puncak Borneo) and Mordi Bimol (Mas Gading) won by handsome margins.

In fact, even Abang Johari’s predecessor Pehin Sri Adenan Satem tried to bring both parties together in 2016 but failed because of “bad blood”.

That year, three UPP members — Dr Jerip, Ranum and Dr Johnicol Rayong (Engkilili) — applied to join PBB, but their applications were rejected by Adenan because of SUPP’s stubborn stance.

SUPP president Datuk Dr Sim Kui Hian has reiterated that the party’s delegates would reject PSB’s overtures to become a member of the Sarawak coalition.

On the other hand, Wong was often asked if he would apply to rejoin SUPP, and the answer was a big “no”.

In trying to solve the problem Wong said that SUPP and PSB should talk about “collaboration”.

He said, “I was sacked from SUPP. If I want to go back (to SUPP) they must re-accept me. Isn’t it? Many of us in PSB were sacked by SUPP.”

Wong, who is Bawang Assan assemblyman, said the former Sarawak BN’s performance in GE13 in predominantly Chinese constituencies was a dent in the GPS armour because SUPP “lost quite badly” in six Chinese-majority parliamentary seats — Kuching, Pending, Sibu, Lanang, Sarikei and Miri — to the Opposition DAP and PKR.

At the same time, Najib had tried to cajole SUPP that they could overcome the odds by working hard with other coalition members to rebuild itself despite suffering an ignominious defeat in the 2013 general election, when the party won only one out of the seven parliamentary seats it contested in. The party didn’t fare well either in GE14, managing only to retain Serian.

However, thanks to Adenan, SUPP did reasonably well in the 2016 state polls, where it won seven out of 13 state seats it contested, wresting four seats from DAP in the process.

Abang Johari has on many occasions urged PSB and SUPP members to end the bickering and return to the party to no avail.

“We will support SUPP and there is no need to quarrel. Outsiders, please come home. If your heart is for the people and not personal gain, you will come back. Let us work together to regain the seats lost to the Opposition,” he added.

Despite Manyin’s enthusiasm and confidence that the Bidayuh factor will bolster GPS’ chances of establishing a majority government in the coming state election, his hopes may just be wishful thinking.

Assoc Prof Dr Ahi Sarok of Unimas noted that in the last parliamentary election, PKR’s Willie Mongin and DAP’s Mordi Bimol had a breakthrough in Puncak Borneo (comprising Serembu, Mambong and Tarat seats) and Mas Gading (comprising Tasik Biru, Opar and Tanjong Datu state seats), respectively after several attempts.

In other words, there is a shift in the mindset of young voters, especially the politically-savvy Bidayuhs and GPS can’t take things for granted.

If Bidayuh constituents continue to remain loyal to the Pakatan Harapan cause, GPS could have a close fight in as many as six out of the eight Bidayuh seats.

Now it’s up to the political veterans within the government to change their attitude, bury the hatchet and join hands and unite because the coming state election could be a matter of life and death for Sarawak politics.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.