Hot seats to watch in Sarawak during GE14

Fire and heat. — DayakDaily.com file pic. // Photo: Pixabay

Commentary

Some have described the 14th general election (GE14) as the “mother of all elections” as the ruling coalition will use every ounce of its influence to regain its two-thirds majority in Parliament while the opposition will fight tooth and nail to hold on to as many seats as it can.

Perhaps such a description is quite befitting, judging from the intensity of this election where candidates from both sides of the divide have already started their campaigning way before the official campaign time begins. It is even more obvious in Peninsular Malaysia where party flags are already seen planted to lay claim in certain areas.

Sarawak which has the biggest share of parliamentary seats at 31, will not be spared from the election heat. There might still be no party which dares to plant its flags at this stage, but if you go check your letter box outside, you are likely to find some campaign pamphlets and flyers in it! I found mine on Tuesday. And that was even before some parties such as Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) unveiled their candidate list!

Sarawak being Sarawak, is known for its friendliness and easy-going nature, despite having 31 parliamentary seats to be contested. In actual fact, there are not that many hot seats.


In the 2013 general election, state Barisan Nasional (BN) retained all its Bumiputera-majority seats and lost all its urban seats — Bandar Kuching, Stampin, Sarikei, Sibu, Lanang and Miri.

For this GE14, state BN is expected to retain all of its Bumiputera-majority seats. The only uncertain battles, again, are in the urban seats and perhaps two or three in the Bumiputera-majority areas, where the seats may be sizzling hot due to certain local factors. In general, state BN will maintain its valour in these seats.

Since last year, state BN has claimed that it could wrest back four seats, but did not name them. It was understood then that the four mysterious seats are all urban seats since state BN only lost in urban areas.

The state BN’s direction and targeted areas became clearer after state BN chairman Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg openly declared that the state ruling coalition will be able to wrest back three of the lost urban seats — Stampin, Sarikei and Miri. This is to say, Sarawakians will see tough fights in these three seats, with state BN charging and Pakatan Harapan (PH) defending. These three seats thus will be hot seats.

In Stampin, it will be the battle of two kings — Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP) president Datuk Prof Dr Sim Kui Hian faces off with state PH chief Chong Chieng Jen.

In Sarikei, it will be the incumbent Dato Sri Huang Tiong Sii whose nickname is “Wild Boar” standing against Democratic Action Party (DAP) incumbent Wong Ling Biu.

Huang, who had a reputation as a tough guy even before joining politics, is a character — crude but very effective in delivering his service. He is no-nonsensed and is very honest about what he can do and what he can’t.

Wong who is tall, good looking and comes across as soft and gentle, was the former personal secretary of former Repok assemblyman Datuk David Teng. Wong won in the last state election, not because of his own charisma but more because of protest votes as well as the fact that over the years, Sarikei has become a formidable opposition stronghold. Sarikei will be a hot seat to watch on polling day which falls on May 9.

Miri, is another area of uncertainty. If Mirians can vote out former Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri George Chan in the 2011 state election, they can vote out anyone. However, being there are two sides to a coin, the Mirians may also vote in anyone, including state BN candidate Datuk Sebastian Ting.

Ting was able to wrest back Piasau in the 2016 state election with his sincerity and humility. He will pose a formidable challenger to PKR’s Dr Michael Teo, who now is facing internal rejection from its own PH colleagues. So watch out for Miri, the colour of the city may just change in this upcoming general election.

Meanwhile, on the state opposition side, state PH chief Chong announced that it could make inroads into four Bumiputera seats last year. Further probing failed to get him to specify which seats but party insiders cited the seats of Saratok, Baram, Puncak Borneo and Lubok Antu.

But that was how things were last year and things have changed now, this year. State BN has settled the local issues within Saratok and Lubok Antu. Meanwhile, the reason why DAP thinks it can take down Puncak Borneo, a Bidayuh-majority area, until now, is still a mystery.

According to how events have unfolded recently, perhaps the heat has moved to Baram, Selangau and Julau.

Baram is a seat that needs to watched closely. The battle between uncle and nephew is expected to be replayed where Uncle Anyi Ngau of Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) will again meet the nephew, Roland Engan of PKR.

In the 2013 general election, Anyi won by a razor-thin margin of only 194 votes and that happened because another former PKR member Patrick Sibat Sujang joined the fray as an independent and managed to split PKR’s vote of 363.

Baram which is made up of state constituencies Marudi, Telang Usan and Mulu, is quite a different story now. For GE14, the situation in Baram may not be as tense, after PDP fielded Datuk Penguang Manggil in Marudi during the 2016 state election where his good services have since seen the return of many voters including the Chinese voters to the state BN fold. Additionally, in the new seat of Mulu, a predominantly Kelabit area, it is expected that Anyi will received good support from the gentle and beautiful highlanders of Sarawak.

PKR had only one good chance to take over Baram and that was during the 2013 general election when there was intense objections to the construction of the Baram dam. The party however, failed to do so due to internal disputes. After missing that opportunity, it can expect to kiss its chances to win Baram goodbye this coming general election.

Meanwhile, Selangau will likely be the hottest seat among all the Bumiputera-majority seats where the first ever, female Dayak parliamentary candidate Rita Indol, is fielded by Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS). The seat became spicy hot, after state PKR chief Baru Bian declared his candidacy for the area.

This is because Baru, who is an Orang Ulu, has been parachuted into this predominantly Iban area where 95 per cent of the voters are the Ibans. PRS incumbent Datuk Joseph Entulu, who was expelled on Sunday by PRS, has said he will not stand as an independent and will support the BN candidate, but this will do little to lessen the sting felt by his supporters and rumblings of discontent on the ground. Yes, Selangau is shaping up to be another sizzling hot seat that Sarawakians should not miss.

Among the Bumiputera-majority seats, another area to keep an eye on will be Julau, which has become a intriguing hot seat after former PRS deputy president Larry Sng decided to try his luck there.

Before Julau incumbent Datuk Joseph Salang rooted himself in Julua, the seat used to be held by Datuk Sng Chee Hua, Larry’s father. Sng gave way to Salang in 1999 and now, he is returning to claim the seat for his son.

Things will be different this time because previously in other elections, both Sngs — father and son — split their resources in different constituencies because they both contested. This time around, however, they are focusing all their resources and manpower in Julau. Salang can expect a good fight from the politically-savvy father and son duo.

Meanwhile, perhaps Bandar Sibu is also worth a mention where hot seats are concerned. Bandar Sibu will be a fiercely contested seat because Sibu BN chief Dato Sri Wong Soon Koh is sending his son Datuk Andrew Wong to wrest back the seat from DAP’s Oscar Ling.

Wong who had finally announced his retirement when his current term as Bawang Assan state assemblyman ends, would definitely channel all his resources into ensuring that Andrew wins to “ensure continuity of the Wong Dynasty in Sibu”. Despite the negative perception of Wong’s intention in fielding his son, one thing which should not be disputed is that Andrew, being young, good looking, courteous and most important of all, capable and brainy, is actually a strong and viable candidate.

That being said, one should also bear in mind that DAP, after years of being rooted in Sibu, has built up its own solid diehard supporter base in the constituency. If Robert Lau could lose during the Sibu by-election in 2011 when national resources were pouring in to support him, SUPP can expect to face an uphill battle in Sibu, the riverine town of the graceful swan. — DayakDaily