KUCHING, 15 March 2009: With nomination day for the Batang Ai state by-election barely a week away, the Sarawak Barisan Nasional (BN) is expected to be bracing for a formidable battle with Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) to retain the Iban majority seat.
Poster and flag wars aside, one factor that would affect the BN’s performance is the choice of candidate, as the voters are likely to be more inclined to support an Iban candidate from a Dayak-based party. Ibans account for 95% of the 8,006 registered voters in this constituency.
Based on the trends of previous state elections, the majority of the voters in this 1,341 sq km rural constituency bordering the Indonesian province of Kalimantan were influenced by “family ties” rather than party symbol in casting their votes.
Yesterday, Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) president Datuk Seri Dr James Masing said the state BN had agreed to nominate Malcolm Mussen Lamoh, 49, an engineer with the state agriculture department, as the candidate pending approval from the national BN leadership.
The Batang Ai seat fell vacant on 24 Feb, after the death of four-term incumbent Datuk Dublin Unting Ingkot due to a stroke. He was PRS vice-president and state assistant minister for sports and agriculture.
While Masing has been appointed BN director of operations for the by-election on 7 April, a political observer felt the BN machinery needed to be more focused on its campaign strategy to counter the anticipated opposition onslaught.
PKR has yet to name its candidate for the by-election. However, with its national leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim as the Sarawak PKR liaison chief, it has been trying to woo voters by raising issues such as native customary rights land, Dayak rights and socio-economic development issues.
In concurring with Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s statement that the BN would do away with the practice of announcing “instant noodle” projects during elections, a political observer said it was more beneficial to organise community programmes or sessions to meet the voters face-to-face.
He suggested that more high-impact programmes, aimed at solving problems related to development and community welfare, should instead be expedited in the area.
Some of the constituency’s 107 localities, comprising 238 longhouses and 15 villages, such as Engkari, are remote.
Nonetheless, he said the state government’s plan, which includes giving priority to tar-seal the 10km Batang Ai settlement area ring road and two other roads at a cost of RM42 million, would be most welcomed by the people as it was long overdue.
The political observer said it was also pertinent that the BN candidate was accepted by the locals.
He added that the poster war and distribution of pamphlets to explain issues and government policies could play a role in portraying the position of the state BN, particularly as it would be a test of the ruling coalition’s solidarity.
In the May 2006 state polls, when Dublin narrowly beat Nicholas Bawin Anggat of Sarawak National Party by 806 votes, it was said that his reduced majority was due to protest votes by some BN supporters, who were allegedly unhappy with the way the BN machinery was run.
It was believed that personal attacks levelled at the incumbent, as well as the PRS leadership crisis, could have also affected Dublin’s majority, contrary to speculation that Bawin, then the pro-tem president of the unregistered Malaysian Dayak Congress, was an influential figure in Batang Ai.
This time around, the talk is that the PKR candidate could either be Bawin, who is currently the PKR Batang Ai chairperson, or former five-term Lubok Antu Member of Parliament Jawah Gerang, who recently joined PKR. — Bernama