By Roselind Jarrow (FMT)
SIBU: Two lawyers, Robert Lau Hui Yew and Richard Wong Ho Leng, who have been fighting each other in court since 1991, are now facing off in the Sibu by-election scheduled for May 16.
Lau, 44, of Sarawak United People’s Party and Wong, 51, chairman of Sarawak DAP, are both vying to capture the Sibu parliamentary seat which fell vacant following the death of the Sibu MP and deputy transport minister Robert Lau Hoi Chew on April 9.
Robert Lau Jr, as he popularly known here, is the late MP’s cousin. Both he and Wong have promised a “gentleman’s fight” and agreed there will be no character assassination and no personal attacks.
Lau’s campaign will be based on his five-year service as a Sibu councillor. He is asking Sibu voters to give him a chance to serve them. He hopes to bank on the good works that the late Lau had done for the people.
In terms of election experience, Lau is a greenhorn.
“Berjuang Demi Kecermelangan Sibu” (to fight for the excellence of Sibu) reads his posters written in Chinese, English and Iban.
Soon after he knew he would be a candidate, Lau began exposing himself as an “ordinary and simple” man. He began walking all over the market, talking and shaking hands with vegetable vendors and other traders. He does this almost every day.
Lau is the son of a prominent Sibu businessman, Lau Swee Nguong, the chairman of KTS group of companies, which are involved in timber and timber-related businesses, large oil palm plantations and printing and newspapers businesses.
Being rich can be a disadvantage to him as the majority of the people surrounding him in Sibu are poor.
Wong, the crusader
Wong, on the other hand, has an entirely different background. Coming from a poor family living in the outskirts of Sibu, he is noted for his crusade against poverty, injustice, and unfairness.
“He knows what poverty is like,” said one of his supporters, pointing out that during his school and university days, he had to work hard to support his studies.
An Australian-trained lawyer, Wong is seen by many as a fighter against the rich who allegedly abused the timber resources to enrich themselves and their families and cronies, while the poor were left to their own devices, receiving little support from the BN-SUPP government.
This will be his message to the 54,695 voters of Sibu, the majority of whom are poor.
For them, the choice will be between a veteran politician and a novice.
The third candidate, Narawi Haron, 60, is a retired serviceman.
In the 1995 parliamentary election, Narawi contested against the late Robert Lau and Wong, obtaining only 975 votes. He lost his deposits.
“I have been preparing for the state election, but since there is a by-election, it gives me the chance to contest,” he told reporters.
Meanwhile, the betting on Wong has started – can he wrest the seat in his fourth attempt?
Those who believe in “feng shui” say that the number four in Chinese is “see”, which means “death”.
Depending on whom you talk to, it simply means “political death”.
If you talk to SUPP supporters, they will say this by-election will signal the political “death” of Wong.
But if you talk to Pakatan-DAP members, it means a double “political death” of SUPP and Lau.
For Lau, this will be his first outing, but for his party it is going to be the fourth time it is defending the seat.
The figure “4” is still there and it can also signal trouble for SUPP in the constituency as well as in the forthcoming state election.
In the 2006 state election, SUPP suffered serious setbacks losing seven seats to DAP, including Bukit Assek and another to Sarawak National Party.
SUPP retained the state seats of Nangka, Bawang Assan and Pelawan which are under the Sibu parliamentary constituency.
Only in the Nangka constituency, where the majority are Malay/Melanau voters, did SUPP win with a big margin.
SUPP almost lost the two seats (Bawang Assan and Pelawan); it was “saved” by postal votes.
Putting all these factors together, DAP believes that Wong has a better chance of wresting back the seat from SUPP.
“Nothing is impossible,” said DAP adviser Lim Kit Siang, referring to the 1982 parliamentary election during which DAP Ling Sie Ming defeated SUPP president Wong Soon Kai in the Sibu constituency.
In three previous encounters with the late Robert Lau, Wong lost 4,845 votes to him in 1995. In 2004, he took on Lau once again, only to lose 3,345 votes.
And their last meeting was in the 2008 parliamentary election where he lost once again to Robert Lau by 3,549 votes.
Fighting Lau junior is not like fighting the late Lau who was alleged to have links with gangsters in the town.
Lau is a “greenhorn” in politics and appears to be meek and weak compared to Wong who is a very experienced politician.
“This is where Wong has an advantage over Lau in the Sibu by-election,” said an observer.
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