KUCHING, April 29 — Carved out of two seats considered DAP strongholds, Batu Kitang, which should have been an easy win for the party, is up in the air as urban voters there baulk at its clash with PKR.
This was compounded by the growing affection that residents in the more suburban areas of the constituency have begun to show for the incumbent Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, which is set to gain an advantage from the split opposition vote.
Jason Liu, 38, from the town of Arang said the infighting between the two Pakatan Harapan allies has diminished his faith in the pact, adding that he was undecided on which of the two he would ultimately support in the May 7 Sarawak state election.
“My vote is a secret, of course. But I am sure this split is going to hurt the opposition,” he told Malay Mail Online.
Geographically, the new constituency drawn from Batu Kawah and Kota Sentosa is primarily rural, but the delineation includes the densely-populated Pasar Maong and Arang townships at the fringes of Kuching.
Based on recent surveys that found the urban areas of the state to heavily favour DAP and the results of the 2011 election when the party won the two adjacent seats with ease, the new area should be an easy win.
But the addition of villages of Haji Baki and Lidah Tanah, with rural voters that are traditionally supportive of BN, have complicated projections. In Kitang proper, voting in the last poll was split, with DAP only managing a 116 majority in the district out of 4,188 valid votes, making it a “grey” area for the opposition.
Over in the village of Pekan Batu Kitang where the population is majority Malay, voters told Malay Mail Online that BN was well known for aiding villages and is expected to win their support as the riverside village often suffers flooding.
Esah Kassim, 47, said it did not matter that a Chinese candidate from SUPP was representing BN, saying that the iconic scales — the coalition’s symbol — was recognisable to all.
“There are many PKR flags here, and it may soften some of the villagers’ hearts. But I think at the end of the day, BN will get the support here,” she said.
PKR candidate Voon Shiak Ni told Malay Mail Online that she has worked the area for 10 years, and expressed confidence about winning over the fence-sitters.
Being the officially endorsed opposition candidate, her presence is palpable in the industrial outskirts, with posters and banners bearing her likeness fighting for attention with those of popular incumbent Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem.
“They know me. I have been servicing the people of the entire Stampin. The campaigning may be felt more in the urban areas but that is just because the city is more busy. But we represent everyone, and I am sure the people know it,” she said.
DAP revealed its candidate, Abdul Aziz Isa, on nomination day, after negotiations with PKR broke down. The two supposed allies are facing each other here and in five other state seats.
The late nature of his entry has resulted in few rural voters even recognising that he was running to be their representative.
“For now, I only know PKR and BN are contesting,” said food stall owner Habibah Aman, 41.
Abdul Aziz was confident, however, that he will be able to make up ground in the time left before the May 7 election, banking on the goodwill that his party has built up over the years and his mixed Malay-Dayak heritage to broaden his appeal.
“Surveys show that the Chinese are solidly behind DAP and the voting patterns of Malay and Dayak seem to show they vote based on the person running,” he told Malay Mail Online.
“I am half Malay, and half Dayak, and I am very moderate and accepting, which is why the Dayak and Malay voters have both found me to be easy to accept when I socialise there,” he added.
The racial composition of the Batu Kitang is 54.8 per cent Chinese, followed by Malay and Melanau at 20.1 per cent, Bidayuh (14.5 per cent), Iban (5.8 per cent), Orang Ulu at 0.4 per cent, and “Others” at 4.4 per cent.
On the BN side, Lo Khere Chiang from the SUPP has made rural issues his main platform, reportedly saying he was familiar with the misery of those living in its outskirts and would champion their interests.
Batu Kitang is one of 11 new constituencies created during the redelineation last year and considered a safe seat for DAP, which originally conceded the spot to PKR during the initial seat negotiations.
DAP fielded Abdul Aziz after Sarawak PKR chief Baru Bian insisted that it would not adhere to the distribution agreed by the federal leaders of both parties.
Aside from the DAP, PKR and BN candidate, the seat is also being contested by independents Othman Bojeng and Sulaiman Kadir.