THE central region of Sarawak has seen some hot seats in past polls and this 15th general election will be no different, although you can expect the temperature to rise even further.
There appears to be more on the line for the contenders in this election with Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) determined to leave its mark in its first national polls outing.
That said, here’s our pick of seats to watch this election:
In a list of hot seats in Sarawak this election, Sibu will easily be in the top three.
The seat had been a stronghold of GPS’ predecessor, Sarawak Barisan Nasional (BN), up till a by-election in 2010 following the demise of Datuk Robert Lau, who had represented the seat for five terms.
The seat is considered a ‘traditional’ seat for Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP) and there’s concern in GPS that it could turn into a DAP ‘traditional’ seat as the opposition party makes a bid for a fourth consecutive term through incumbent Oscar Ling.
Ling, who has represented since 2013, retained the seat with a 11,422-vote majority in a four-cornered fight in the 2018 polls. His closest competition was SUPP’s Dato Andrew Wong Kee Yew, who passed away the following year at the age of 43.
This election, Ling will be facing the late Andrew’s father, Parti Sarawak Bersatu (PSB) president Dato Sri Wong Soon Koh who is six-term Bawang Assan assemblyman, and Gabungan Parti Sarawak’s (GPS) Clarence Ting.
With about three days to polling, it is hard to say who is in the lead although some political pundits claim DAP or Pakatan Harapan (PH) is losing steam not just in Sibu but in the state as a whole, as the coalition had little to show for its 22 months in government.
The verbal combat here actually seems to be the loudest between Wong and Ting, who in the run-up to nomination day had admitted to being ‘reluctant’ to join the fray.
Seizing the opportunity, Wong said ‘a reluctant politician was highly unlikely to be a good politician’. Ting, who is Sibu Municipal Council chairman, retorted that in spite of his initial reservations, he was ready to serve the constituents if he wins.
Sibu has 105,875 registered voters.
Incumbent Alice Lau from DAP is facing a tough four-cornered fight against GPS’ Wong Ching Yong, lawyer Priscilla Lau from Parti Bumi Kenyalang (PBK) who is contesting under the PSB logo, and Independent Dato Wong Tiing Kiong.
However, in her bid to retain the seat, the 41-year-old pharmacist’s real challenger is believed to be Ching Yong who is from SUPP.
If the state election last December is any indication of the outcome of GE15, perhaps Ching Yong has the advantage as the state seats under Lanang – Bukit Assek and Dudong – have both been won by GPS.
However, Alice, who easily retained the seat in GE14 with a majority of more than 14,000 votes, might not be having sleepless nights as she is said to have a good track record and a transparent ‘report card’ to show to her voters.
Coming in with an outside chance of victory is Priscilla.
A familiar figure among the electorate, Priscilla had taken part in the past two elections and her popularity appears to have hit a higher notch, and nobody should rule her out in this hotly contested election.
As for businessman Tiing Kiong, he seems to have gone silent after nomination day but maybe that is just his unique way of campaigning. Let the voters be the judges.
The seat has 87,356 voters.
The seat will see a four-cornered fight but it is really a rematch between incumbent Datuk Larry Sng and GPS’ Datuk Joseph Salang Gandum, both of whom are re-entering the ring with more firepower.
Sng is now Parti Bangsa Malaysia (PBM) president, and Salang the Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) president following the demise of Tan Sri Datuk Amar Dr James Masing in October last year.
In the 2018 election, Salang, who was then PRS secretary-general, was making his bid for a fifth term when he lost to Sng, who stood as an independent candidate, by a margin of 1,931 votes.
With his position now as chief of a GPS party, Salang is under pressure not only to win, but to do so convincingly, and judging from the ground sentiments, he has a fighting chance at victory and indeed, a comeback.
As for Sng, after winning in the polls, he joined Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) after PH formed the federal government but quit after the PH government collapsed in 2020. He then teamed up with several other political leaders to form PBM in 2021.
Sng may have had a rough patch in the weeks before the polls due to disagreements in PBM, but it is not expected to affect his popularity among voters in Julau.
Joining the contest for Julau are Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak’s (PBDS) Susan George and Independent candidate Elly Lawai Ngalai.
Julau has 34,850 voters.
DAP’s two-term incumbent Andrew Wong Ling Biu is not seeking re-election and has left it to his son, Roderick Wong Siew Lead, to retain the seat for the party.
A political novice, Roderick is facing a mammoth task as he will lock horns with political heavyweight Dato Sri Huang Tiong Sii from GPS-SUPP.
Huang’s popularity has been soaring since he won his second-term as Repok assemblyman.
Word on the grapevine is that he can even win without serious campaigning, but he is not taking any chances and has continued to campaign hard and is holding nightly ceramahs to reach out to the voters to seek their support.
After all, this is a general election and unlike the state election, the voters’ sentiments and ground support are definitely different.
There is no sure win in any election and Huang knows full well that complacency only leads to downfall.
Sarikei has 55,018 registered voters.
The constituency will see a three-cornered fight between incumbent Datuk Ali Biju, who is contesting under the Perikatan Nasional (PN) ticket, PH’s Ibil Jaya from PKR, and GPS’s Giendam Jonathan Tait from Progressive Democratic Party (PDP).
In the 2018 election, Ali – then contesting as a PKR member – defeated PDP’s Subeng Mula by a 989-vote majority in a straight fight.
Among the factors likely to have contributed to Subeng’s defeat were PDP’s internal split due to intense lobbying involving several potential candidates, as well as disappointment among supporters of then-incumbent Tan Sri William Mawan Ikom who was dropped.
This time around, GPS had nominated Giendam who is a holder of a Master in Business Administration from University of Southern Queensland, Toowoomba, Australia and a Bachelor of Science in Chemical engineering from University of Michigan Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA.
There is no internal squabbling among GPS and this certainly augurs well for the coalition.
For Ali, he switched camp during the unpopular Sheraton Move in 2020 and joined Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) helmed by former prime minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.
On paper, GPS should win Saratok since all three state seats under the parliamentary constituency, namely Krian, Kalaka and Kabong, are represented by the state coalition, but Ali’s popularity and influence in the seat cannot be taken lightly.
He was the Krian assemblyman and in the state polls last year, had contested the seat as an independent only to later declare his support for the GPS candidate following a purported agreement between GPS and Bersatu.
Saratok has 44,531 registered voters.