UNTIL the surprise defeat in the last state election in 2011 of Barisan Nasional (BN) candidate Datuk Peter Nyarok Entrie, who was then Sarawak Progressive Democratic Party (SPDP) deputy president, in Krian, the Saratok parliamentary constituency was a safe seat for the ruling coalition.
Krian and Kalaka are the two state seats that make up the Saratok parliamentary seat.
Nyarok’s loss to Ali Biju of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) will, therefore, jeopardise the chances of BN defending Saratok in the coming general election.
Compounding the situation, there are rumblings of discontent over the performance of the incumbent MP Jelaing Mersat, a vice president of SPDP and also Deputy Transport Minister.
The grouses are that Jelaing is seldom seen in his constituency as his federal ministerial duties require him to spend most of his time in the nation’s capital – and that aside from attending some formal functions in the area, the MP seldom mixes with the constituents.
Jelaing’s dwindling popularity has apparently been matched by Ali’s rising stock among the locals in the two years after they elected the latter to the State Assembly.
This turn of event reflects the change in the mindset of rural voters who no longer support a party or coalition but pay as much attention to the quality and attitude of the candidates.
The present political climate in Saratok does not bode well for BN, causing SPDP to have second thoughts about fielding Jelaing to defend his seat.
This dilemma spawns a raft of aspiring candidates claiming to have the people’s support to represent BN in the coming polls.
Political pundits and self-proclaimed coffeeshop analysts are having a field day predicting who will take over from Jelaing.
Among the speculations is that SPDP will field a woman candidate in Saratok which inevitably points to Barbara Mawan, daughter of SPDP president Tan Sri William Mawan Ikom.
She has not refuted this claim and, of late, seemed to encourage it by being very visible in party and government functions.
However, despite her father’s position, Barbara will have her work cut out for her in jostling to the head the queue of local ‘heavyweights’ staking their claims for the candidacy.
Among them are Chambai Lindong, Enturan Luta, Jasmy Sadan Sagi and Dr James Chela.
These are no pushovers as they are all local boys who have made good in their professional fields and each commands his own pocket of support in Saratok.
Complicating the situation there have been talks of Mawan taking over from Jelaing in the election.
Mawan himself has been coy about the speculation by not brushing it aside while saying Jelaing is the candidate nominated by his party for Saratok but the final decision rests in the hands of the prime minister.
Whoever gets the final nod from Najib will have to contend with Ali.
Feedback from the ground seems to indicate he has been making inroads into Kalaka area through dissatisfaction with the incumbent MP, and his growing influence among the locals since his giant-killing feat in the last election.
At the moment, it is difficult to find a bigger personality than Ali in the Saratok constituency.
The BN candidate’s best bet is to rely on the coalition’s track record and machinery rather taking on the Krian assemblyman at the personal level.
Saratok is still in need for more roads, hospitals and other public amenities – if BN could convince the voters there it could deliver all these, then its candidate might have the upper hand.
Saratok is, at best, a grey area for BN at the moment.