BELIEVING in the power of finesse and not force or anger, Datuk Joseph Salang Gandum, who feels he is indebted to his people, is setting out to take back P209 Julau for Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) and pick up the rollout of development from where he left off in the constituency four years ago.
In the 2018 general election, Salang was defeated by then independent Datuk Larry Sng, after serving P209 Julau as an MP for four terms since 1999.
Today, Salang as president of Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS), the only Dayak-based party in Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS), feels even more obligated to wrest back the Iban-majority seat.
As the only party president in GPS who is neither an assemblyman nor an MP, it is crucial that he proves himself worthy of his supporters’ trust in the coming general election.
“I thank God that I’m still healthy. That’s the most important thing.
“Since I still can physically cope with the demand of politics, it is only fair that I give back to the people who have placed their trust in me,” said Salang, who is at his early 70s.
Representing GPS-PRS, Salang will be going up against old rival Sng who is contesting under a Parti Bangsa Malaysia (PBM) ticket, a national party the latter himself had shaped from Sarawak Workers Party (SWP).
The veteran politician who tumbled once will not cower as he faces an expected formidable showdown with his younger Chinese opponent who can converse in the Iban language as well as any native speaker.
For Salang, voters are able to now do an honest comparison between himself and the incumbent who has had his time to perform his duties as an elected MP.
‘Now we see the shortcomings in Julau’
When Salang was still MP, longhouse chief Tr Jantan Uchong of Genting Kopi, Pakan said the former had facilitated the implementation of various infrastructure projects in Julau, including roads, telecommunication towers and electricity supply.
He said Julau, before Salang, was very underdeveloped with poor road connectivity and even worse network coverage.
“But after he (Salang) won (in 1999), he built us telecommunication towers so we can easily contact each other.
“In his previous four terms, all the infrastructure implementation was ongoing, but after he lost, all of the development projects were abandoned.
“The development in this area has slowed down since then,” Jantan told DayakDaily when met recently.
He said his observation is shared by many Ibans in Pakan, and thus they see the need to vote for Salang this time for development to continue.
During Sng’s time as MP (2018-2022), Jantan said, he personally did not see any significant development in Julau although money was allocated by the government.
While development issues remain a priority for local folks in Julau, Salang’s ‘report card’ could have just been more to their taste than Sng’s.
Locals demand Iban MP for Julau
Who else could lead the Ibans better than an Iban?
This is the sentiment shared by many Iban voters in Julau, in support of Salang whose family roots are in Julau.
“Indeed, the people back in my village all support Salang 100 per cent,” says longhouse chief Tr Morris Nyanong of Nyalak Ili, Pakan.
Echoing Morris, Jantan remarked: “Not that we condemn other races, but who else can lead us better than an Iban, right? That’s why we like Salang so much.”
Additionally, Salang’s accumulated experience as a seasoned Parliamentarian due to various government posts he has held is perceived favourably in the local community.
Salang had served as deputy ministers in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2004-2008), Ministry of Energy, Water and Communications (2008-2009), and the Ministry of Information, Communications and Culture (2009-2013), before he turned down a reappointment after the 2013 polls.
“If he wins this election, he may have the opportunity to become a minister. And if he becomes a minister, development will surely come to Julau,” said Morris.
Better telecoms, utilities, education
Should he be elected, Salang has given his word to bring better telecommunication and Internet services to the constituency, especially for the youth.
Without network and Internet coverage, he said, it means the locals are cut off from the rest of the world and without communication, there would be a lack of knowledge.
“In the present world, everything revolves around communication (and Internet). If you’re not within reach, like the Internet, your knowledge would be limited.
“Especially the younger people nowadays, they are hungry for information, hungry to be part of the world.”
In terms of utilities, Salang envisioned for all settlements in Julau to have access to treated water and to be connected to the main power grid.
Other than physical development, Salang also wants to create a socially-developed Julau where its people are equipped with stronger mental aptitude to engage with the modern world.
He noted the importance of inculcating among rural people stronger appreciation for education, health and social responsibilities.
In order for his dreams for Julau to come true, Salang urged Julau voters to give him their fullest support.
“This is to ensure that we can work together with the Pakan and Meluan ADUNs (assemblymen).
“From there, we can strengthen our unity and develop Julau together as a whole.”
The P209 Julau parliamentary constituency consists of two State constituencies, namely N47 Pakan and N48 Meluan, both of which are currently represented by Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) assemblymen Tan Sri William Mawan Ikom and Rolland Duat Jubin, respectively.
On polling day on Nov 19, voters will have to decide between incumbent Sng and three challengers comprising Salang, Susan George from Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak (PBDS) and independent candidate Elly Lawai Ngalai.
In the 2018 general election, Sng won against Salang in a straight fight, garnering a majority of 1,931 votes. — DayakDaily