EXCITEMENT is in the air in Selangau as it will see a battle of debutants this election after incumbent Baru Bian decided to shift north to contest in Lawas where he was born.
Contesting on the Gabungan Parti Sarawak’s (GPS) ticket in Selangau is Edwin Banta, who will lock horns with Parti Keadilan Rakyat’s (PKR) Umpang Sabang and independent candidate Henry Joseph.
Edwin, 57, is a political secretary to the Sarawak Premier; while Umpang, 57, is a retired teacher and Henry, 62, is a lawyer based in Miri. This is the first election for all three of them.
Selangau comprises two state seats, Tamin and Kakus, both held by Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS), one of the four component parties making up state coalition GPS.
Tamin and Kakus are represented by Christopher Gira Sambang and Datuk John Sikie Tayai respectively.
With more than 40,000 registered voters, Selangau has been traditionally contested by PRS as 95 per cent of its voters are Iban.
The seat had been the stronghold of GPS’ predecessor, Sarawak Barisan Nasional, until the 2018 general election when its three-term incumbent Datuk Joseph Entulu was not re-nominated for the seat.
Entulu was a former minister in the prime minister’s department and former Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) deputy president.
In his place, BN fielded Rita Insol and she faced Baru, who had at that time contested on the Pakatan Harapan (PH) ticket.
Baru polled 11,228 votes to win with a majority of 486 votes, the slimmest majority of the 2018 polls in Sarawak.
Stepping into his maiden polls, Edwin shoulders a big responsibility to wrest the seat.
He, however, can take comfort that the incumbent will not be defending the seat.
As a political secretary to the premier, Edwin has covered much ground and understands the issues that beset the people.
Furthermore, he was appointed Selangau election director in 2018 and certainly has knowledge of the sentiment on the ground.
He is also PRS Tamin deputy chairman, another platform which enables him to serve Selangau folk.
Additionally, he is also a board member of Sarawak Housing Development Corporation (HDC) and Sarawak State Farmers Association.
Besides that, Edwin is also active in non-governmental organisations and is presently Dayak Oil Palm Association (Doppa) treasurer.
That aside, Edwin can leverage on the fact that Baru seems to be better known among the opposing debutants, namely Umpang and Henry, as far as politics is concerned.
But Baru’s absence does not mean it will be a walk in the park for GPS, as both PKR and Independent too will want to make their presence felt in their debut, knowing that a ‘second chance’ is hard to come by.
Knowing that odds are stacked against them, they, at the very least, would want to put up a good fight against GPS despite constraints in resources.
Umpang, meanwhile, is a man on a mission to win the seat and at the same time, restore PKR’s reputation in Selangau.
He claimed that Baru’s performance as the MP had put PKR’s image in a negative light and he wanted to set things right for the people of Selangau.
According to Umpang, voters in Selangau felt neglected following Baru’s decision not to defend the seat he won in 2018.
For that, the former teacher appealed to voters of Selangau to give PKR another chance by voting for him because voters should realise that Baru’s neglect of the area should not be seen as the PKR’s doing.
Baru had left PKR during the so-called ‘Sheraton Move’ in February 2020 and joined Parti Sarawak Bersatu (PSB) in May that year.
Although this is his first election, Umpang is not regarded as one that jumps into the fray at the 11th hour or a ‘parachute’ candidate.
As a former teacher, he commands the respect of the people and he is no stranger to people in Selangau.
As for Henry, not much is known about this chap, except that he is a lawyer by training.
It is also unclear on his political motivation to join the race but if he wins, he will have to continue serving the Selangau constituents in his capacity as an Independent member of parliament over the next five years.
This is because of the newly-implemented anti-hopping law that has put the shackles on Independent candidates who aim to join a political party if they win.
The fight for Selangau in GE15 is certainly expected to be a nail-biting and apparently, the odds do appear to be against PKR and Henry.
Indeed, GPS is expected to win the seat.
The coalition’s strength and popularity has been proven in the last state election as the state coalition achieved a landslide victory. Its agenda of ‘Sarawak First’, fighting to restore the state’s rights, has won many supporters.
It would appear then that it is now up to Edwin to apply the finish and bring home the prize.