ANALYSIS As polling day for the Balingian by-election is two days away, both Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat are battling hard to win over the hearts and minds of the 13,366 voters. But greater attention is being focussed by both parties on the 3,875 Iban voters who are crucial to their victory.
It appears that the Malay-Melanau voters of 7,705 are split between Christians and Muslims who are said to be unhappy that a Christian Melanau, Yussibnosh Balo is the BN-PBB candidate. They had put forward their recommendation of a Muslim candidate to Chief Minister Adenan Satem, but their recommendation was rejected in the eleventh hour.
The Pakatan-PKR candidate is Abdul Jalil Bujang.
Under an agreement in the Melanau community, the Balingian and Dalat state constituencies should be given to Muslim Melanau, while the Mukah parliamentary constituency should be contested by a Christian Melanau. But when the incumbent MP Leo Michael Toyad converted to Islam, the agreement became complicated.
However, the Muslim community demands that Balingian should be given to them, hence the problem and the grumbling.
Worried of the split in Malay/Melanau votes, the BN and Pakatan have focused their attention on 67 Iban longhouses which they believe is the key to victory in the by-election this Saturday.
Even in the Iban sector, the BN has to work hard as it is worried that the Iban voters may be influenced by PKR’s exposure of 51 years of neglect resulting in the majority of the longhouses lacking basic amenities such as clean water, 24-hour supply of electricity, healthcare services, educational facilities and good roads, as well as lack employment opportunities.
Another issue that frightens the BN is the allegation of land-grabbing which the opposition said was very rampant during the 13 years that the former chief minister Abdul Taib Mahmud represented them. Taib quit as their representative on Feb 28, 2014 which caused the by-election.
Adding to the BN’s worry is the exploitation by PKR of a recent Sibu native customary rights (NCR) land court case where eight Ibans, representing several hundred Ibans from nine longhouses, were charged in court. They were charged with allegedly causing obstruction to a sand mining company from operating on their NCR land.
“You will face the same land problems, and you will be arrested for defending your land if your land is taken away from you,” warned Sarawak PKR chief Baru Bian during his campaign trail in the longhouses.
He said that he had filed three NCR land cases from Balingian, and another three more would be filed after the by-election.
“A number of Tuai Rumahs (longhouse chiefs) in Balingian have come to me during this campaign asking my legal firm to sue the government as their land and the lands of their followers have been taken without their permission.
‘Vote the BN out for a new land policy’
“The only way is to solve your problems is vote the BN government out starting from this by-election, so that a new land policy under Pakatan government can be implemented,” said Baru, who is also the Ba’Kelalan assemblyperson.
But the BN is serious in trying to stop PKR from having a “free hand” in the Iban longhouses, so Iban ministers led by Deputy Chief Minister Alfred Jabu (right) have literally been ‘camping’ in these longhouses to make sure that the Iban votes will go to the BN-PBB candidate instead of to the Pakatan-PKR candidate.
When in the longhouses, the ministers were shocked to hear Iban voters bluntly telling them that they had been neglected and forgotten in terms of development - there are no basic amenities like clean water, electricity, healthcare services and educational facilities. They also complained of “mysterious illnesses” that had inflicted upon them allegedly due to emissions from the aluminium smelting plant which was built among their midst.
The emissions from the plant and pollutants from upstream oil palm plantations have caused irreparable damage to environment that had also resulted in them losing incomes from the rivers as well from their gardens. Fish had disappeared, and their padi, vegetables and cash crops have been destroyed. Monthly they incur huge medical bills as a result of the mysterious illnesses. That is their main fear.
Another issues brought before the ministers was the lack of employment opportunities given to Iban youths in oil palm plantations and in the smelting plant which preferred to give employments to cheap Indonesian workers. Nor were they given any opportunity to work with the government, even many of them have good qualifications.
What should the Iban minsters do to solve their problems?
In an effort to win back their hearts and minds, the Iban ministers promised more development and “election goodies”, and at the same time warned them not to listen to “sweet talk” from the opposition as they (opposition leaders) are trouble-makers.
They also warned the voters that if they wanted “continued” development, they must vote for the BN candidate.
Subtle threats are also used by BN campaigners like disturbing opposition’s political gatherings and sabotaging functions organised by the opposition. The case in point was Baru’s programme to one longhouse which had to be cancelled as Social Development Minister William Mawan and his entourage went to the longhouse at the same time.
“Yes that is sabotage,” said Baru.
What appears to be a desperate move by the government is the ban imposed on Pakatan leaders from entering Balingian.
Warning to Anwar to ‘behave’
Chief Minister Adenan had already ordered three PKR leaders barred from campaigning in Balingian and has issued a stern warning to PKR de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim (centre in photo) to “behave” himself during the campaign otherwise he would be deported.
But the ban can work to the advantage of the opposition if it can show that the government is really cruel and inhumane.
The PKR by-election director, See Chee How, said that the strong presence of the opposition in Balingian has benefited the people of Balingian, and in the last two weeks the BN government has promised more than RM500 million worth of projects to be implemented in the constituency.
“This amount of allocation announced by the federal and state governments is more than the total amount of money that the government had spent in the last 50 years. If the opposition is weak, the government would not be that generous.
“But what are promised them may remain promises as the people are given ‘crossed cheques’. When can they cash the crossed cheques?
“Perhaps, the people of Balingian will have to wait for the coming state election,” said See, who is also the state PKR vice-chairperson and the Batu Lintang assemblyperson.
But the questions are: With all the promises of development, can the BN improve on Abdul Taib’s majority of 5,154 votes in the last state election and to make sure PKR lose its deposit again?