KUCHING, March 15 - With nomination day for the Batang Ai state by-election barely a week away, the Sarawak Barisan Nasional (BN) is expected to brace for a formidable battle with the opposition Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) to retain the Iban majority seat.
Poster and flag wars aside, factors that will determine the BN’s victory includes the choice of candidate as the voters are likely to be more inclined to an Iban candidate from a Dayak-based party, given that Ibans accounted for 95 per cent of the 8,006 registered voters.
Based on trends of previous state elections, the majority of voters in this 1,341-sq km rural constituency bordering the Indonesian province of Kalimantan were influenced by “family ties” rather than party symbol in casting their votes.
Yesterday, Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) president Datuk Seri Dr James Masing said the state BN had agreed to nominate Malcolm Mussen Lamoh, 49, an engineer with the state agriculture department, as the candidate pending approval from the national BN leadership.
The Batang Ai seat fell vacant on Feb 24, after the death of four-term incumbent Datuk Dublin Unting Ingkot due to a stroke. He was PRS vice-president and state assistant minister for sports and agriculture.
While Masing has been appointed BN director of operations for the by-election on April 7, a political observer felt the BN machinery needed to be more focused on its campaign strategy to counter the anticipated opposition onslaught, especially by PKR.
Although not having named its candidate yet for the by-election, PKR, under its national leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim as the Sarawak PKR liason chief, has been attempting to make inroads to woo votes by harping on native customary rights land, Dayak rights and socio-economic development issues.
In concurring with Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s statement that the BN would do away with the practice of announcing “instant noodle” projects during elections, a political observer said it was more beneficial to organise community programmes or sessions to meet the voters face-to-face.
He suggested that more ‘high impact’ programmes towards solving problems pertaining to development, as well as community welfare, should instead be expedited in the area, especially as some of the 107 localities, comprising 238 longhouses and 15 kampungs, such as Engkari, were remote.
Nonetheless, the state government’s plan, which includes giving priority to tar-seal the 10km Batang Ai settlement area ring road and two other roads at a cost of RM42 million, would be most welcome by the people as it was long overdue, he said.
The political observer said it was also pertinent that the BN candidate was accepted by the locals and that poster wars and the distribution of pamphlets to explain and clarify issues and government policies could play a role in portraying the position of the state BN, particularly as it would be a test of the ruling coalition’s solidarity.
In the May 2006 state polls, when Dublin narrowly beat Nicholas Bawin Anggat of Sarawak National Party (SNAP) by 806 votes, it was said that his reduced majority was due to protest votes by some BN supporters, who were allegedly unhappy with the way the BN machinery was being run.
Contrary to speculation that Bawin, then the protem president of the unregistered Malaysian Dayak Congress (MDC), was an influential figure in Batang Ai, another factor was believed to be the result of personal attacks levelled at the incumbent, as well as the PRS leadership crisis.
This time around, Bawin, who is currently the PKR Batang Ai chairman, and former five-term Lubok Antu member of parliament Jawah Gerang, who recently joined PKR, are in the spotlight as one of them is speculated to take on the BN. - Bernama
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