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Baram seat, a losing battle for BN?

Jacob Dungau

By Joseph Tawie

Unhappiness over the construction of the Baram dam, native resettlement issues and elected representative Jacob Sagan’s disinterest may end Barisan Nasional’s hopes here.

KUCHING: Except for a four-year pocket between 1990 and 1994, the Baram parliamentary constituency has ‘always’ been a Barisan Nasional ‘fixed deposit’.

It’s been a guaranteed win for BN since 1970 except for 1990 political hiccup. That year  environmental activist Harrison Ngau defeated BN-Sarawak National Party’s (SNAP) Luhat Wan.

But in the following polls, BN wrested the seat back.

But the future now looks gloomy for BN in Baram.

Poor performance by its MP Jacob Sagan,  issues relating to the controversial dam and the ongoing crisis within BN partner Sarawak Progressive Democratic Party (SPDP) look set to bury the ruling coalition here.

BN’s Baram is in danger of falling to the opposition in the 13th general election.

With a 26,716 strong electorate, the constituency which is the size of Pahang in peninsular Malaysia comprises two state seats – Telang Usan which is dominated by the Kayan and Kenyah communities and Marudi where Ibans form the biggest community.

Last month the constituency came under the political spotlight when more than 30 longhouse chiefs issued a ban against a proposed visit by the Sarawak Progressive Democratic Party (SPDP) president William Mawan to Ulu Teru in the Marudi state constituency.

The ban worried not only SPDP (which is a BN partner) party members, but also BN leaders including Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.

These longhouse chiefs are the strong supporters of the Marudi assemblyman and SPDP vice-president Sylvester Entri, who is also one of the leaders of ‘SPDP 5’ who are rebelling against Mawan’s leadership.

Revolting supporters

The visit was supposed to campaign for the MP for Baram Jacob Sagan, another SPDP vice-president who is also the Deputy Minister of International Trade and Industry.

Mawan was only ‘allowed’ to visit the area after Muhyiddin intervened saying that the visit was organised by Barisan leaders. The visit was on Oct 23.

The organisers of the visit had to bring in some 3,000 outsiders to make the crowd in order to save Mawan from embarrassment.

The village chiefs and their supporters had been warned Mawan of the serious implications if he proceeded with his visit. But Mawan, however, ignored it.

What is obvious is that Mawan’s visit to Marudi on October 23 clearly highlighted the seriousness of split in the Baram constituency.

In fact the visit has further heightened the tension between Mawan and Sagan on one side and Entri and the longhouse chiefs on the other.

Seen from this perspective, it is an uphill battle for SPDP and BN to retain the Baram seat, especially if Sagan is to be nominated to defend the seat, as promised by Mawan.

Moreover, there are several other forces working against the incumbent. After being an MP for four terms, Sagan is generally perceived as a low performer by the voters.

For a significant number of times, he had delegated to his family members like his wife and brother-in-law to represent him at official functions. This practice irritates the voters.

Dam controversy

Due to the strong opposition of Kayans and Kenyahs against the construction of the Baram dam, Sagan cannot rely on their support in the Telang Usan constituency as they have been hurt by his premature stand in favour of the construction of the dam.

Even Kenyahs from his longhouse at Long Anap are against the dam as almost all the Kenyah heartland will be flooded by the dam.

His stand has therefore alienated him further from the Telang Usan voters.

Neither can Sagan depend on the Iban voters who form the BN core supporters in Marudi as they allege they have been ignored by the Baram MP.

In fact, for the coming election they demand that the next MP should be an Iban after two Kayans (Luhat Wan and Harrison Ngau) and a Kenyah in the person of Sagan have represented the constituency for a period of more than 40 years.

Their reason is that among the three major communities, Ibans form the largest with 10,294 voters in the Baram constituency as compared with 6,365 Kayan, 4,500 Kenyah and 600 Penan voters.

From past records, the Kayan and Kenyah communities were split with 55% voted for the opposition, and 45% for BN.

While more than 2,700 Chinese voters voted for the opposition, the Malays numbering more than 1,600 voted for the BN.

The Iban votes are considered to be the determining factor.

“The next person to contest from the Barisan Nasional should be an Iban. This is perfectly fair so that each major community has a chance to represent Baram.

“Furthermore, there are few highly regarded and politically oriented Iban personalities who would be winnable candidates at this point of time,” said an Iban professional, who considers himself as one of the potential candidates.

Confident opposition

Declining to be named, the potential candidate said he is prepared to contest as he believes that he has sufficient political experience and exposure.

Being a BN loyalist, he is currently doing voluntary works on the ground on the development of native customary (NCR) land.

He is also an active member of local non-governmental organisations such as Sarawak Dayak graduates Association and Sarawak Dayak National Union.

The opposition however is confident capturing the seat from the BN.

Their confidence is based on the previous election results in the Telang Usan and Marudi seats.

In the last state election, the PKR candidate Harrison Ngau would have won comfortably, if there had been a one-to-one fight in the Telang Usan constituency.

Harrison secured 2,752 votes, whereas Kebing Wan of SNAP  and an independent Jok Ding obtained 705 and 623 votes respectively.  The three of them secured 4,080 votes as against 3,597 votes obtained by Dennis Ngau from BN.

Out of 3,597 votes obtained by Dennis, 1000 votes came from the Ibans.

In the Marudi constituency, Entri won comfortably with a 3,202 vote majority in the state election.

But in the coming parliamentary election, support for the BN is deeply split due to the present crisis within SPDP.

It all depends on Entri and the 30 longhouse chiefs and their followers.

And Entri is said to be adamantly against Sagan who was supposed to join the ‘SPDP 5’ when they walked out from a supreme council meeting in January last year.

He chickened out in the last minute and supported Mawan’s leadership.

Thus, for BN-SPDP, Baram is a real ‘hot spot’ whether Sagan is defending the seat or not.

Source : FMT

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