PKR feels the heat of the S'wakian interior where Taib cracks the whip
As polling day for the 10th Sarawak State Election draws closer, there are reports that BN has clawed back some support, most notably from the Malay-Melanaus.
Part of the reason is that supporters of Chief Minister Taib Mahmud have been busy going the extra mile extending laden hampers with broad smiles and promises of more 'goodies' to come.
In the ongoing polls campaign, two of the hottest PKR battles will be in Balingian and Ba'Kelalan.
Balingian is Taib's stronghold and Ba'Kelalan is where his potential successor PKR's Baru Bian is contesting.
Nangka and Lingga are also two other constituencies where PKR will be challenged to the maximum by the forces of Taib and his Sarawak state administrators.
In Balingian, Taib faces potential giant-beater Suriati Abdullah, also from PKR. Suriati told Malaysia Chronicle she is confident because Taib has done "nothing for the people even though this is his seat".
"The first thing I will do if I win will be to correct the water supply system. Our drinking water is now very dangerous. If the rivers are clean, we are okay. If the rivers are contamintaed, we will typhoid, diarrhoea and other type types diseases from contaminated supply," the pint-sized Suriati told Malaysia Chronicle.
The Malay-Melanau here number around 69 per cent, Chinese 13 per cent and Iban 18 per cent.
There is also an Independant candidate named Salleh Jafaruddin, who is a relative of Taib's. An ex-PBB leader, Salleh is Taib's second cousin as well as being a former deputy education minister. He claims that he has good grassroots support but feelings of doubt remain about his motives due to his blood ties with Taib.
Indeed, his insistence on contesting takes votes from Suriati, making it easier for Taib to retain his seat.
Then, there is Ba'Kelalan, where PKR's Baru Bian will take on SPDP-BN's Willie Liaw.
This is an Orang Ulu seat. The percentage of Orang Ulu voters number around 90%, Iban at 4%, Malay-Melanau and Chinese both at 3% respectively.
Willie used to work as a legal assistant in Baru's law firm and just like Baru, he too has lots of experience handling matters concerning NCR (native customary rights) in regards to native land issues although Baru has already made a name for himself and his fame has spread far and wide.
This seat consists of a group of 9 villages in the Bario Highlands which is 910 metres above sea level. It is located just 4km from the Indonesian border of Kalimantan.
The terrain is difficult to access and experienced 4WD drivers are a necessity to enable the PR campaigners to meet the voters. These drivers for hire also charge an expensive fee for their services.
Malaysia Chronicle spoke to two seasoned PKR campaigners who have worked round the clock to push the Pakatan message of change in the Sarawakian interiors.
They are Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad, the Seri Setia assemblyman and Johari Abdul, the MP for Sungei Petani, for their assessment of the situation on the ground in the remote villages.
Nik Nazmi was on duty in Nangka which pits PKR's Norisham Mohamed Ali, an engineer by profession, against Dr Annuar Rapee of PBB-BN.
This is a Malay-Melanau majority seat with their voter percentage being tagged at 53 per cent, Chinese 25 per cent and Iban 20 per cent.
Nik Nazmi noted that in his house-to-house visits, the response of the Chinese and Ibans were good while the Malay-Melanaus was "okay" although not as enthusiastic as the Chinese.
He reckons there is an even chance for PKR, but insists there is still much work to be done as during the conversations, the Malay-Melanaus have hinted that they still preferred Taib.
"If PKR can obtain all the Chinese and Iban support plus a quarter of the Malay-Melanau support, then victory is possible for PKR," Nik Nazmi told Malaysia Chronicle.
Johari Abdul, who was recently at the centre of the Datuk T sex video scandal in Kuala Lumpur, is now busy campaigning in Lingga.
This seat is 60 per cent Malay-Melanau, 36 per cent Iban and 4 per cent Chinese. It is a small coastal fishing town in the Sri Aman Division near where the Batang Lupar river flows into the sea.
Commercial activities is limited to less than 20 small stores in the town, all of which are run by local Chinese merchants. The population has stagnated due to lack of job opportunities.
Lingga is also popularly known as "Crocodile Town" for its numerous sightings of crocodiles in the nearby river.
Johari told Malaysia Chronicle that the Ibans and the Malay-Melanaus were very angry with BN and Taib because their lands had been forcefully taken away and Taib refused to give them any financial compensation.
"It seems that the BN crocodiles are more dangerous than the real reptiles!" quipped Johari.
He was cheerful despite the physical discomfort and strain of travelling vast areas with little sleep in between the crowded ceramah schedule.
"We have made some headway but it is difficult to say if there will be a surprise result from the natives. This is because 10 days of campaigning is not enough. I have been maintaining contact with my colleagues and all of us have agreed that we can only hope that our hard work will not be wasted come the 13th General Election," Johari told Malaysia Chronicle.