SANDAKAN, May 11 ― Voting for the largest town on the east coast of Sabah kicked off at 7.30am today and will determine whether Pakatan Harapan (PH) can end its losing streak at the polls with the Sandakan parliamentary by-election.
The people of this town, known for seafood and being a former timber-rich area will decide whether they want to keep DAP’s Vivian Wong, the daughter of the former Sandakan MP Datuk Stephen Wong who died in office, or opt to be an Opposition area.
With the latter, they have a choice of Parti Bersatu Sabah’s (PBS) Datuk Linda Tsen, the former MP of neighbouring Batu Sapi who lost her own seat in the last election last year; or choose from three other independent candidate ― former state Amanah chairman Hamzah Abdullah, local Chinese businessman Chia Siew Yung or the little known Sulaiman Abdul Samat.
With Vivian, Sandakan will have the advantage of being closer to the federal government and able to better bring forth the people’s voices and needs. She is also the safe choice, following the path which her father, who won on an unprecedented majority a year ago, had set before her.
Vivian’s strength is also her weakness. Her youth and inexperience is often used against her.
Tsen on the other hand, is touted to be a seasoned and hardworking politician, close to the grassroots and backed by a steady local party.
Her disadvantage lies in that she’s from the Opposition. Although Sandakan has proven to be anti-establishment and unpredictable in their choices over the decades, the people may want to continue with the government option to at least finish this term after a couple terms of being the opposition.
Their independent streak may give one of the independents a chance, although campaigning efforts have mostly been focused on the two main candidates.
But it is also apparent that this fight is not just about the better candidate but largely about which party lines the people want to put their faith in. DAP and the ruling Warisan/PH government, who have failed to impress in the past year, or PBS and its whole lineup of new friends, including frenemy turned ally, Umno.
The people of Sandakan, consisting of 51 per cent Chinese, 46 per cent Muslim Bumiputera and the remaining non Muslim Bumiputera and other races, want the town restored to its former glory with thriving business, tourism arrivals and good local governance.
Additionally, the Muslim Bumiputera’s deal breaking gripes include the lack of bantuan sara hidup cash aid, rent-to-own homes, and more low cost housing.
The consensus is that with apathy from the Chinese voters towards going out or returning to their hometown to vote, the hope now lies with the second biggest demographic to pull the votes for the winning party.
Insiders agree that the ability to mobilise the Muslim Bumiputera en masse, either literally through transportation or with added “duit tambang” or pocket money, may be a game changer.
After two weeks of campaigning and observations towards last night’s curtain call showdown between DAP and Warisan vs Najib’s Umno, punters have placed DAP as the favourites to win, albeit with a reduced majority.
But the variables are a high voter turnout that can turn the results in any favour.
Today, Vivian will be casting her vote at SK Muhibbah in her father’s memory before visiting a dozen other voting centres. Tsen, a voter of the adjacent constituency will be visiting the SK Tanjung Papat voting centre first while Hamzah, also a voter in Batu Sapi, will be accompanying his three children to vote in Yu Yuan school.
Sulaiman will also cast his vote at SK Muhibbah.
Of the 39,684 eligible voters, the Election Commission is targeting 70 per cent turnout. They will be broadcasting the results live via their social media page.