Winning The Hearts Of Voters In Pujut By-Election

By Abdul Aziz Harun

KUCHING, June 8 (Bernama) -- With nomination less than a fortnight away for the Pujut state by-election scheduled for July 4, talk is rife whether the ruling Sarawak Barisan Nasional will be able to recapture the seat from the DAP.

It must be remembered that Pujut, one of the three state seats in the very much urban Miri parliamentary constituency in north-eastern Sarawak, was won by the Sarawak United People's Party of the BN in the state election in 2006 after the seat was created in a re-delineation of electoral boundaries a year earlier.

DAP wrested Pujut, where the Chinese make up almost 70 per cent of the electors, from BN in the state election in 2011 and retained it in the state election last year, but with a majority that dropped from 4,103 in 2011 to 1,759 in 2016.

Piasau and Senadin, the two other state seats in the Miri parliamentary constituency, are with the BN.

Sarawak Chief Minister Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg had said that it would be an uphill task for BN to recapture the seat but, at the same time, he also said that "we still feel that we can win", a double-talk which analysts feel is a mind game he is playing with the opposition.

Can BN win the hearts and minds of the Pujut electors to secure a victory come polling day on July 4?

Under the leadership of the late Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem, many Chinese voters evidently switched their support to BN.

Adenan fielded BN direct candidate Datuk Hii King Chiong in the Pujut seat in the state election in 2016. Hii lost, but reduced the majority of the DAP, represented by Dr Ting Tiong Choon, to 1,759. The PAS candidate and an independent only secured 513 and 375 votes, respectively.

BN went on to win 72 of the 82 seats in the legislative assembly. DAP and PKR won seven and three seats, respectively.

SUPP, despite infighting that began in 2011 that saw a breakaway faction forming the United People's Party (UPP) in 2014, put up a tough fight against the opposition in the 2016 state election, winning seven of the 13 seats it contested.

Adenan had attempted to resolve the SUPP-UPP squabble in Pujut by fielding businessman Hii as a BN direct candidate, on condition that Hii resigned from the UPP before nomination.

BN managed to wrest Piasau from DAP in the state election. The third seat, Senadin, remained with BN.

All eyes are trained on the new Chief Minister, Datuk Amar Abang Johari, to take measures to recapture Pujut for greater BN unity.

Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas) senior lecturer Assoc Prof Dr Jeniri Amir said BN must first resolve the issue of which party would represent it -- SUPP or UPP.

The political analyst felt that SUPP would be more eligible because its machinery had been long established in the constituency.

Former SUPP president Tan Sri Peter Chin Fah Kui said he felt that BN had an even chance of winning the by-election, depending on who was chosen as the candidate.

"Unity is the key (to victory) and the voters are wise enough to choose the best candidate that can represent them," he said.

While the SUPP-UPP squabble poses a challenge for BN, the DAP is not without its problems.

After DAP won Pujut in 2011, infighting led to Fong Pau Teck, who won the seat in 2011, to be expelled from the party.

He contested as an independent in the 2016 election and DAP saw its majority shrink.

In the 2016 election, DAP fielded Dr Ting who reportedly secured Australian citizenship in 2010. He reportedly renounced his Australian citizenship weeks before the election.

The court of law dismissed the case of dual citizenship brought by Hii against Dr Ting. However, the Sarawak Legislative Assembly voted 70 to 10 on May 12 to have Dr Ting disqualified as the assemblyman for Pujut, thus paving the way for this by-election.

Abang Johari, popularly known as Abang Jo in Sarawak, is seen to be on solid ground to win the hearts and minds of the Chinese electors.

Upon taking up the post of chief minister, he pledged to carry on with the plans initiated by his predecessor Adenan, plans that were evidently well-received by the Chinese community.

Sarawak politics generally revolves around the people's acceptance of and trust in the calibre of the top leadership, namely the chief minister.

The result of this was pretty much evident in the outcome of the 2016 state election. There was support for initiatives such as the enhancement of the English language, recognition of the UEC (Unified Examination Certificate) examination and aid to Chinese schools.

The issues in Pujut are more urban-related, such as the environment, integrity, transportation, employment opportunities and devolution of power.

Adenan was seen to have given greater attention to issues related to prosperity, cost of living, infrastructure, forestry, and also integrity.

Abang Johari, in the first 100 days of his administration, highlighted ICT facilities, purchase of the Bakun Dam, establishment of the Development Bank of Sarawak, construction of the light rail transit system (LRT) and so on, without neglecting the issues raised by Adenan, such as aid to Chinese schools, oil royalty for the state and the devolution of power.

Nomination for the Pujut state by-election is on June 20. Polling is on July 4 when the 27,078 electors pick their candidate.