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February 27, 2008 12:26 PM

Five BN Wins, An Early Sign Tipping The Sarawak BN Scale

By Caroline Jackson

KUCHING, Feb 27 (Bernama) -- Pretty faces are not only synonymous with the more glamorous side of the Hollywood entertainment scene but also spice up Sarawak’s political debates as the election campaign trail heats up.

This lighter vein to an otherwise serious business of candidates hitting the ground with local and national issues in the run-up to the March 8 general election has undeniably attracted the attention of voters, especially those in the rural parliamentary constituencies.

In the predominantly Malay parliamentary seat of Batang Sadong, Barisan Nasional (BN) new face Nancy Shukri is nonchalant about her demure "celebrity" looks, which had certainly brought a breath fresh air to the local political scene in Sarawak.

Nancy, 47, political secretary to the chief minister and secretary-general of Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB) women's wing, is involved in a straight fight with Piee Ling of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) in Batang Sadong, a bastion of the Sarawak BN coalition's dominant party.

On a more serious note, the five parliamentary seats won unopposed by the state BN ahead of the polls are seen as an early sign that a convincing victory is within reach, especially in the bumiputera areas, where bread-and- butter issues are closest to the hearts of the people.

On nomination day, the state BN won four seats unopposed -- Selangau (Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Joseph Entulu Belaun), Kapit (Alexander Nanta Linggi), Tanjung Manis (Norah Tun Abdul Rahman) and Kanowit (Aaron Ago Dagang).

The tally again tipped in the BN's favour yesterday after the BN's Datuk Wahab Dolah's sole opponent, independent candidate Junak Jawek, 56, withdrew from the race in the new seat of Igan.

Three of the seats were snapped up by PBB and two by the Dayak-based Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS).

A political observer said it was a positive indication that the BN would repeat the 2004 parliamentary election trend with a clean sweep of the 26 remaining seats now up for grabs, particularly in all the Malay-Melanau areas that had always been PBB strongholds.

It is also a coincidence that Alexander Nanta, 49, who won opposed for the second consecutive time in the Iban heartland of Kapit, has the distinction of being the grandson of the late Dayak paramount chief, Temenggong Tun Jugah Barieng, the founder of PBB -- the result of a merger between Parti Pesaka and Parti Bumiputera in 1973.

"Denying the BN its two-third majority does not go well in bumiputera areas, where development is the mainstream issue," said the political observer, who wished to be anonymous.

While it is pertinent that both the BN and opposition candidates must rely on different campaign strategies for urban and rural seats, the demographic profile indicated that rural voters would be a "happy lot" through the provision of development projects, he said.

He said local issues pertaining to basic amenities, including water and electricity supply, feeder roads, houses and subsidies touched the daily lives of the rural people directly.

In contrast, urban voters would go beyond development issues and perceive that hotly contested seats like Bandar Kuching would continue to be developed regardless of whether they vote for the BN or the opposition, he said.

In Bandar Kuching, the only opposition-held constituency in the state, Sarawak United People's Party (SUPP) Youth chief Alan Sim Yaw Yen is challenging incumbent DAP Chong Chieng Jen in a straight fight.

However, in such areas, the BN, especially the Chinese-based state BN partner, SUPP, is ready to refute the allegations by going to the grassroots to explain the real situation, especially on global issues like inflation and petrol price hike.

Political observers also said that the two PRS victories served as a morale booster to retain all its seats, especially in predominantly Dayak constituencies, for the split party led by Sarawak Land Development Minister Datuk Seri Dr James Masing and Assistant Minister in the Chief Minister's Office Larry Sng. Following the five BN wins there are currently 26 parliamentary seats up for grabs in Sarawak come polling day.



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