LUNDU, Feb 18 — The odds are heavily stacked against State Reform Party (STAR) and Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak (PBDS Baru) winning the Tanjong Datu by-election today as past elections have shown.
In the three-way battle, STAR’s Johnny Dom anak Aput and PBDS Baru’s Rapelson Richard Hamit, 31, are the clear underdogs against the Barisan Nasional (BN) candidate Puan Sri Jamilah Anu, the 61-year-old widow of the immediate past chief minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem.
The state constituency of Tanjong Datu was created in 2006 following the Sarawak state electoral boundary redrawing exercise and now has 9,959 registered voters consisting of 52.4 per cent Malays/Melanaus, Chinese (18.5 per cent), Ibans (16.2 per cent), Bidayuhs (12.5 per cent) and others (0.4 per cent).
From the first election, the seat was always convincingly won by BN.
Adenan had been its representative then and continued to win with huge majorities in the subsequent state elections in 2011 and 2016.
All his opponents in the 2006 and 2016 elections lost their deposits. In a three-way battle in 2011, one of his opponents lost his deposit while another from PAS, managed to retain hers.
Based on these past results, Johnny and Rapelson may lose their RM5,000 election deposits if they fail to secure more than one-eighth of the total votes cast, a mandatory requirement under Section 5(7) of the Elections (Conduct of Elections) Regulations, 1981.
STAR president Lina Soo, however, insisted that her party’s candidate has an equal chance of winning in the by-election.
“We want to contest to win and nobody knows how many votes each of the three candidates will get until all the votes are all counted,” she said when asked whether Johnny, assumed to have little chance of winning, could retain his deposit.
Like PBDS Baru, STAR has been working hard woo the voters since the official campaign period started after nominations on February 4.
The hit the ground by reaching out to voters in longhouses, villages and bazaar areas with door-to-door visits.
“We did not have ceramah to talk about, but instead we prefer to have personal touch with the people to vote for our candidate Johnny,” Soo told Malay Mail Online.
STAR’s campaign issues are centred mainly on the Malaysia Agreement 1963 and the native customary rights land.
The party has been accusing the federal government of taking away Sarawak’s rights, such as limiting the territorial sea boundary from 200 nautical miles to three nautical miles with the enactment of the Territorial Sea Act 2012, taking away oil and gas resources through the enactment of the Petroleum Development Act 1974 and the downgrading of Sarawak’s status as an equal partner to Malaya to one of the 13 states in Malaysia with the amendment to Article 1(2) of the Federal Constitution in 1976.
PBDS Baru, on the other hand, has been raising issues which are more inclined towards the interest of the the Dayak community.
At the top of the list are issues tailored to the state’s largest tribal group, namely restoring native customary rights on pemakai menoa and pulau galau; a Dayak for Sarawak chief minister; equal job opportunities in the civil service among the Dayak, Malay and Chinese communities; eradication of poverty among the Dayak community and equal opportunities for Dayak students to pursue higher education.
“Everything is going on smoothly and our chance of winning has increased tremendously by the day as more people are beginning to be aware of why we are contesting,” PBDS Baru president Cobbold John Lusois said.
He claimed the Dayaks are not happy with the state BN over the issues which have been raised by PBDS Baru during the campaign.
“They want to be heard and injustice needs to be resolved,” he added.
He further claimed that the people, on the whole, are unhappy with the choice of an Adenan family member to replace their late representative.
“They feel that Tanjong Datu seat does not belong to any family or dynasty but to the community,” he said, adding that there are other people who can be candidates, instead of seeking sympathy votes.
“It is a trend for the BN to place widows in by-elections such as in Kuala Kangsar. This must be stopped,” he said.
But the best efforts of the two local state Opposition parties to win the support of the voters cannot compare to the massive election machinery deployed by the BN on behalf of the widow whose public appearances are limited by the fact that she is still mourning.
Instead, top BN leaders such as Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, his deputy Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamid and Sarawak Chief Minister Datuk Amar Abang Johari Openg have gone to Tanjong Datu to campaign for Jamilah.
At the same time, they have also promised more goodies in the form of development projects to come if Jamilah wins.
Since the campaign started, about RM2 billion worth of projects have been promised by the state and federal government ministers for this rural constituency.
Among the major pledges made were the construction of the state headquarters for RELA in Lundu and a matriculation college in Sematan.
Many grievances raised by the people were solved on the spot by the state and federal ministers.
It was also in Lundu that Najib had promised he would be prepared to negotiate for the return of rights to Sarawak which were taken by the federal government since 1963.
Political scientist Professor James Chin said a vote for Jamilah is a vote for continuity, where the wife replaces the husband.
However, the director of the Asia Institute in the University of Tasmania also pointed out that it will make very little difference to the BN whether it retains Tanjung Datu or otherwise this round.
“They don’t care since they have 72 seats,” Chin said.
There are a total of 82 seats in the Sarawak Legislative Assembly.