Reduced majority win expected


SANDAKAN: Batu Sapi voters will go to the polls tomorrow in a by-election in the parliamentary constituency that is expected to hand the Barisan Nasional (BN) candidate Datin Linda Tsen a victory with a reduced majority, thus retaining the seat for the ruling coalition.

Most political analysts predict that barring last minute hitches, Tsen, whose husband Datuk Edmund Chong Ket Wah died in a road accident on Oct 9, is on the verge of clinching the ticket to enter  Parliment to continue the unfinished work of her late husband, although some see this battle as too  close to call and some even opined that the opposition candidates are still matematically capable of pulling off  an upset.

Chong had won the seat in the 2008 general election by polling 9,479 votes in a straight fight with independent candidate Dr Chung Kong Wing who obtained 5,771 votes.

The Batu Sapi parliamentary constituency, which encompasses the two state seats of Karamunting and Sekong, has 25,582 voters of whom 15,099 or 59.02 per cent are Muslim bumiputeras, 689 or 2.69 per cent non-Muslim bumiputeras, 9,737 or 38.06 per cent Chinese and 57 or 0.22 per cent others.  Political analysts gave the widow the edge over her opponents – Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) president Datuk Yong Teck Lee and Tuaran Parti Keadilan chief Ansari Abdullah, based on the strength of the solid support from the Bumiputera Muslim voters and improved support from  Chinese voters in Batu Sapi.

However, the contesting parties’ officials revealed different accounts of assessment that favour their respective parties.

They based their assessments on the probable voter turnout of 65 to 70 per cent, a  similiar situation in the last general election where about 11,000 voters took part in the Parlimentary election for the seat.

On paper, the BN sees the potential of obtaining up to 5,500 voters —including 1,500-odd  postal votes from navy and military personnel, 1,000 Chinese and 3,000 bumiputera voters living in the constituency, mostly in the water villages and surrounding island villages.

The BN election machinery is said to have located at least 3,000 of these 5,000 bumiputera Muslim voters and is aggressively looking for the remaining 2,000 voters who are on the electoral roll, thus providing some sense of confidence in winning over 60 per cent of the Muslim Bumiputera voting bloc.

These are the Suluk, Bajau, Orang Sungai, Bugis, and Brunei Malay, and most of them are poor fishermen living along the coast and on islands off Batu Sapi, which are about 20 minutes or an hour’s ride by boat from Sandakan.

All of them make up a total 60 per cent of the Batu Sapi electorate.

Mathematically, BN, with the support of about 60 per cent of  Bumiputera Muslim votes, is only targeting to get 25 per cent of the Chinese votes to retain the seat.

“By this calculation, BN is expected to win the seat with a majority of between 1,000  and 2,000  votes,” said an analyst.

BN officials are also confident of securing a bigger majority if the turnout surpasses the 70  per cent mark, and assuming Yong does not get solid support from the Chinese voters.

“The majority of voters in Batu Sapi subscribe to politics of development. Pakatan’s brand of politics is not acceptable and SAPP’s confrontational stance will make Sabah backward again,”  former Sabah Chief Minister  Datuk Seri Salleh Tun Said told Bernama,   yesterday.

However, the BN officials are quite concerned over Yong’s campaign trail, which, according to them, has  been making a big impact or has gained ground among Chinese voters.

On the other hand, party insiders said SAPP was targeting to get 80 per cent of the Chinese vote with his “Sabah for Sabahans” campaign while aiming to share at least 20 per cent of the Bumiputera  Muslim vote through influential local leader Datuk Nahalan Damsal (a former state minister and ex-PKR Batu Sapi chief, who has voiced out his support for Yong rather than for Ansari).

Nahalan is said to be still commanding some respect from the electorate in Sekong, one of the two state constituencies that makes up Batu Sapi aside from Karamunting state seat.

Though he was defeated on PKR’s ticket in the last general election, he still managed to garner 2,082 votes, against the current Sekong assemblyman Datuk Samsuddin Yahya.

However, SAPP has expressed concern over a whispering campaign by the DAP that “Yong will take the party back into the BN  if he wins”, and this allegation can probably inflict enormous damage on Yong’s chances. This explains why Yong has strongly criticised Sabah DAP for sabotaging a fellow opposition party.

Apart from that, the DAP also has about 1,500 members in Batu Sapi and if these  members can be convinced to vote for PKR, then it could dampen Yong’s chances of creating an upset.

BN has been hoping that PKR will be able to steal at least 1,500  to 2,000 Chinese votes from SAPP, thus spliting the Chinese votes significantly in three ways.

“If PKR can get about 1,500 Chinese votes and BN  about 1,000-plus Chinese votes, it will spell disaster for SAPP,” said some political analyts. — Bernama

PKR, which hopes to make waves in this by-election, aims to clinch 40 per cent the Bumiputera Muslim and about 20 per cent of the Chinese vote to pull through.

Realising they are now trailing behind, the PKR machinery has gone on  overdrive in the past two days, throwing in all the strategies that they can possible think of in a last minute desperate push.

PKR itself is facing internal problems as Ansari’s candidacy has not gone down well as he is not well accepted in Batu Sapi.

Ansari, who hails from Tuaran, Kota Kinabalu, has to rely on his supporters outside Sandakan and several national opposition leaders, including PKR’s de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim, Selangor Menteri Besar Abdul Khalid Ibrahim and PAS vice-president Mahfuz Omar to convince the voters to vote for the party.

They also using influential locals leaders like Datuk Karim Ghani, a veteran politician, and retired state education department director  Hasbullah Taha to get some votes for Ansari.

But PKR’s election campaign is still facing problems as its Batu Sapi division chief, Hassnar Ibrahim has ordered seasoned campaigners like Datuk Dr Jeffrey Kitingan, Christina Liew and Sabah PKR chief Ahmad Thamrin Jaini not to come to Batu Sapi to campaign.

This has further alienated a vast number of PKR sympathisers to lend a hand in the by election.

Overall, the Chinese voters hold the key to determine the eventual winner in this crucial by-election, a litmus test to stamp Sabah as a “fixed deposit” for the BN.    As BN party workers put it, from the 9,600 Chinese voters, they expected about 5,500 voters to turn out to vote, and BN believed about more than 1,000 of them are member of LDP, Gerakan, MCA and PBS members and expect them to vote for the ruling party’s candidate.

“We believed Yong will garner between 3,000 to 4,000 votes. If he can garner more than 4,000, “then we will be in trouble”.

“The best indicator would that, if by 2pm on Nov 4, the turnout of Chinese voters does not surpass 40 per cent, then we will have to work hard on Bumiputera votes.

We have no choice but to bring out every single Bumiputera Muslim voter to cast votes,” he said.

The common concern among all the parties contesting in this by-election is about internal sabotage on polling day.

Whatever the outcome may be, political analysts believe that the combined votes to be garnered by SAPP and PKR will more than the BN’s. — Bernama