Obstacles in Salang’s path in Julau

One of the big BN billboards featuring Salang in Julau.

Commentary

It is shaping up to be a tough fight in Julau where Barisan Nasional-Parti Rakyat Sarawak (BN-PRS) candidate Datuk Joseph Salang and independent candidate Larry Sng are locking horns. This constituency has not seen such a grim fight for a long time.

One can tell how intense the fight is by the amount of posters, billboard, flags and banners being put up. Just at the roundabout from Sibu to Julau, constituents and visitors are already greeted by a sea of campaign materials featuring both candidates. Along the major Julau Road, there are more of them.

On the BN side, there are posters, banners and billboard with portraits of Salang, Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg, caretaker Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, the ‘dacing’ (weighing scales) symbol and BN slogans.

On Larry’s side, the campaign materials just simply feature Larry’s portrait photos, and little else.


Larry only uses his portrait photos for his campaign in Julau.

In Bumiputera-majority areas, BN usually has the upper hand, but in this area, conversations with locals showed that situations on the ground are complicated.

A longhouse resident even said this could be a 50-50 fight, and further checks proved that it is so.

Generally, those supporting Salang are hoping for the development of the whole constituency — for more and better roads as well as treated water supply — something that BN has been promising them.

For those supporting Larry, their reasons may be quite different as Salang is not facing just one opponent but a few where many of them are local warlords in their own rights.

First of all, Salang is facing the Sng family — both father and son. Larry’s father Datuk Sng Chee Hua was a former MP in the area prior to Salang. Sng gave way to Salang in 1999, who since then has been representing Julau.

Sng and Larry had in previous elections fought in different constituencies which required them spreading their resources. In the 2013 general election, Sng contested in Selangau against former Selangau MP Datuk Joseph Entulu Belaun while Larry stood in Lubok Antu. Both failed in their respective attempts.

This time, the father and son team decided just to focus on one area. Out of the 31 state parlimentary seats, they have decided not on Lubok Antu which Larry contested in the last general election or Selangau which Sng stood in, but Julau, a seat considered to be a BN stronghold. This raised the question, why Julau?

The poster war in Selangau is quite intense compare to other rural constituencies.

Julau consists of the state constituencies of Meluan and Pakan. Intelligence gathered during a trip to Julau indicated there were some factors which has led to Larry choosing it over other constituencies.

First of all, there are grudges among the grassroots and one of the major ones is the lack of or the slow development in the area.

Some residents complained that Salang has been the MP of the area for so long, and yet, many longhouses still rely on rainwater or river water.

There are others who are discontented with the present rate of development after being influenced by the rhetoric and propaganda of the opposition and are now looking for change.

“The Ibans have changed. Those between the ages of 21 to 60 now know what to do with their votes. Things are no longer like before,” said a resident who refused to give his name.

And in Julau bazaar, development has been so slow that finally, the only petrol station in the area was forced to close. Its closure sparked a vicious circle. With no gas station, less people visited the bazaar, since they are forced to get fuel in Sibu, which is about 60 km away. So they might as well do their shopping and other errands in Sibu, leading to an even more ‘dead’ bazaar back in Selangau.

Secondly, the Sng family was able to gather all the “enemies” of Salang under one roof to make sure that Salang will be taken down this time.

Some of these “enemies” were created due to personal grudges and disagreement, others due to party dispute. What is especially detrimental is that some of them are warlords of the area and they include former Meluan state assemblyman Wong Judat who had a fallout with Salang a few years ago.

Wong did not hide his intention of wanting to bring down Salang. The one-term assemblyman for Meluan stood in the 2013 general election in Julau to contest against Salang but failed in his attempt.

Another warlord that has gone all out to oust Salang is Nyempah Sabot, who was one of the four sacked by PRS along with former deputy president of PRS Datuk Joseph Entulu Beluan on April 23.

Nyempah who was PRS Meluan branch chairman before the sacking holds considerable influence on the ground like Judat. He is in a position to be able to deal quite a blow to Salang’s campaign.

Apart from the two, there is another BN leader who bears a personal grudge against Salang. Even though the said person is not involved in direct campaigning, he has given his blessings to anyone standing against Salang.

Salang is obvious aware of what has been happening on the ground and as a ‘warlord’ in his own right, he is still confident of defending the seat.

He said he has served the people with his best and treated his constituents with sincerity and it is now up to the people to decide who they wanted to support.

Despite all the deadly threats in Julau, Salang is still expected to retain the seat, but with much less majority. After all, the area has been a stronghold of BN. It is not that easy to uproot BN from Julau, a constituency which was created in 1968, and which has been represented by BN since its creation. — DayakDaily