By Lian Cheng
Lubok Antu, which literally means the Ghost Channel or the Haunted Channel, was one of the earliest Iban settlements in Sarawak.
Seated right beside a fast-flowing Batang Lupar which originated from the Batang Ai Dam, Lubok Antu town has been buzzing with longhouse folks, longhouse headmen and campaigners, from both political divides, taking a break or busy with purchasing grocery recently.
Created as early as 1968, Lubok Antu constituency consisted of Batang Ai and Engkilili.
For the 15th General Election (GE15) which will poll on Nov 19, this is a hotly contested area due its heavyweight candidates.
There are four contestants vying for the seat which has a total of 28,995 voters. Incumbent Jugah Muyang, who was an independent decided to join the fray under Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) banner, following Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) rejecting his application to join the party. Then there are Engkilili assemblyman Johnichal Rayong who is from Parti Sarawak Bersatu (PSB) and Langa Lias of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR).
Lubok Antu is an Iban-majority constituency traditionally allocated to PRS, so it is natural that the party will field a candidate.
The candidate Roy Gingkoi is a new face for the voters here, despite his father Gingkoi, being a well established and well-known figure. Many in town when asked, responded that they have not met Roy in person and thus are unable to comment on him.
Being new and unknown to local voters is something that GPS and PRS machinery will need to deal with fast if there is still a desire to win the seat.
Being new, however can also work to Roy’s advantage. Since he is new, he should be given the chance as he may end up being the best ever elected representative Lubok Antu has, especially since he is from GPS, the formidable State ruling coalition.
As Roy is unknown to voters, Jugah and Johnichal seem to have the upper hand especially when the duo seem to be quite popular and resource-rich in view of their seas of flags and banners flying high in Lubok Antu, alongside with those of GPS, shadowing that of PKR whose flags and banners have gone unnoticed.
It is understandable that as incumbent MP for Lubok Antu and sitting lawmaker for Engkilili respectively, both Jugah and Johnichal enjoy the advantage of making the first move.
It would definitely be an uphill task for Roy to wrest back the seat for GPS. Yet it is not completely without hope for Roy. With both Jugah and Johnichal being strong, there is a possibility that Roy may emerge a winner after all, if both Jugah and Johnichal split the Opposition votes, while support for GPS remains intact.
Contention and rivalry in the area is definitely tough, as evidenced by the amount of party flags flying along the Pan Borneo Highway and the 37km of road leading to Lubok Antu.
In terms of the banner war, as of yesterday, it was a truce between the imperial blue of Perikatan Nasional or Bersatu, the GPS’ red-black hornbill against the white background and the scarlet-yellow hue of PSB.
The banner war aside, the real battles of any election in any Iban-majority area including Lubok Antu are never in the town area.
They are always in the longhouses where campaigning consists of long political speeches, to be followed by drinking and merrymaking including dancing and karaoke singing.
The town itself, is therefore, strangely quiet and tranquil.
If not for the huge billboards of the candidates and endless party flags, one would think that it is just another day in Lubok Antu.
At coffeeshops, politics is no longer a “suitable” topic for discussion or chit-chat.
According to longhouse chief James Janbon Bayon, this is because the voters are all somehow related to the candidates.
Especially for Janbon, he is related to Jonichal Rayong through his wife, while both Jugah and Roy are his cousins, and Langa, his longhouse mate.
“So we don’t talk about politics now. What can we say? They are all our relatives. So for this election, we will all just quietly make the decision and vote for the one we identify as the best candidate. So we don’t know who each one of us will be voting for.
“One thing that is certain is that we may be supporting different candidate, we still sit together and having a good time. We will not be like the West Malaysians, who will get into fights with one another just because they don’t support the same candidate,” Janbon told DayakDaily when met at the hawker centre by the Lubok Antu Esplanade recently.
His statement received consenting nods from his three other friends siting on the same table — longhouse chief Jamit Jemat, longhouse chief Abil Lawang and retired army personnel Dawi Liki.
It appears that the other three are also more or less related to the three candidates of Roy, Jugah and Langa minus Johnichal, who hails from Engkilili.
Meanwhile, Jamit explained that the time where the Iban community automatically granted support to the ruling coalition had passed. Now everyone knows that they need to make their own decision on who they want to represent them in the next five years.
“They are all candidates of their own calibre and standing. Jugah is an MP of the Federal government, Johnichal is an assemblyman and Roy is with GPS, Langa with PKR.
“So I told my longhouse folks, look at the policy. Vote for the one who can come out with a good policy and one who can bring development to our area.
“We (as longhouse headmen) don’t tell them who to vote or force them to vote for anyone. They have their freedom to decide. This is democracy or democracy will lose the meaning,” said Jamit.
After Jamit, Abil who had been quietly sipping his coffee, joined the conversation by pointing out something out of the topic but crucial.
“I told my longhouse folks not to mess with the flags and the banners. Whatever flags that have been put up, do not try to disturb them. It is not right,” said Abil.
Sitting by the river, watching the clear river water gushing past in the bright equatorial sun and other customers enjoying their drinks chit-chatting softly in the morning breeze, it dawned on me that regardless who finally manages to earn the crown of MP of Lubok Antu, it will be a heavy task.
The voters of Lubok Antu may be kind and gentle, but they are not ignorant. In fact, they are wise and discerning. Any politicians who think they can manipulate the Lubok Antu voters by giving away ‘election candy’ will have to think twice. — DayakDaily