KIMANIS, Jan 13 — This is the time for people like Zuliadi Zuibin of Kampung Mandangin to push for the government to complete a 500m stretch of gravel road near his home as well as a suspension bridge that would connect him to Membakut town with a 30-minute walk.
It is not a lot to ask for; Zuliadi is content with the pace of development so far in his idyllic kampung which sits between paddy fields.
Still, chances are high that smaller projects like this will be granted now given the attention his village is getting during the 14-day campaign period for the Kimanis by-election.
Within the first five days, three political parties from both sides have visited his area just a few kilometres from Membakut town.
The sudden increase in attention is because punters believe that the second largest ethnic group in the Kimanis constituency — the Kadazan and Dusuns — are going to be the likely kingmakers in this by-election.
The Muslim native vote that makes up most of the electorate in Kimanis will be a repeat of GE14 and split almost evenly between the two candidates from the local Parti Warisan Sabah and Umno/Barisan Nasional (BN).
Politically referred to as KDM, the acronym for Kadazandusun Murut, the KDMs make up less than half of the majority “Malay Bumi” vote consisting of Malay Brunei, Bisaya and Kadayan votes.
The KDM community here is said to make up anywhere between 20 and 40 per cent of the 29,664 voters in the west coast parliamentary constituency.
Statistics differ depending on the source as these are “unofficial” methods of categorising ethnicities.
But some nine out of 19 polling districts are believed to have substantial KDM voters. Lumat, Mawao, Sinuka, Simpangan, Kelatuan, Bandau, Kabang, Bongawan estate and Kuala Pus are the areas where more than 8,000 KDM, non-Muslim natives are voting.
Efforts to woo the KDM vote is apparent from both sides of the political divide, with their campaign trails hitting KDM areas and politicians adjusting their rhetoric to play up sentiments close to the natives’ hearts.
Warisan president and state Chief Minister Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal has been stumping hard for his party’s candidate Datuk Karim Bujang, while Umno has also roped in local Opposition and former BN allies Parti Bersatu Sabah to help its cause.
Shafie attended belated Christmas and New Year celebrations and visited KDM areas in both Bongawan and Membakut in the first five days of campaigning.
On Wednesday, he attended another Christmas event in Kampung Lumat with Warisan vice-president Datuk Peter Anthony, who is also KDM Malaysia president.
Shafie may appeal to the east coast’s Bajau Laut, Suluk and the urban Chinese, but getting to the Brunei Malays on the west coast may not be as easy, especially with the Opposition playing up sentiments that he is “foreigner-friendly.”
But the Semporna MP has been building a reputation as a ‘people person’, and has managed to appeal to those on the ground wherever he goes, not just on the east coast where he enjoys near reverent status, but also in urban areas like Sandakan, where his presence helped to give Pakatan Harapan a resounding win in the by-election there last May.
He has worn down the defences of some KDM communities by his inclusive policies, and also announced a Christmas eve public holiday for the whole state last month.
However, it is still an ongoing task, as Umno, along with local partners PBS, has also been working hand-in-hand, going into KDM areas and using the controversial Sabah Temporary Pass (PSS) as its main ammunition.
It has from the beginning raised concerns that the PSS is not the way to solve the illegal immigrant issue and continued to poke holes in the Shafie administration and policies.
“They cannot be trusted as evident from the numerous U-turns and flip flops i.e. the Kaiduan dam, the Tanjung Aru Eco Development and other things like the slow pace of development, especially the Pan Borneo highway,” said Parti Bersatu Sabah information chief Datuk Joniston Bangkuai.
He agreed, however, that both sides have been concentrating on KDM areas.
Umno president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and Sabah Umno chairman Datuk Seri Bung Moktar Radin have all been to KDM areas and their busy schedules of ceramahs and events include a good number of both Malay native and KDM areas.
But what do the KDM want?
Zuliadi, 33, lives with his family of five, including his mother and two children. His sister resides across the road. They have modest lives, earning a living from “kampung work” — selling sundries and doing odd jobs.
They consider themselves lucky in that they are not subject to a yearly evacuation triggered by floods every monsoon season, but they do get stranded when the rain gets too heavy.
They also complain about small, everyday things like the price of goods becoming more unaffordable and streetlights that don’t work.
“I think people here should be worried about things aside from PSS. We have our everyday issues to be concerned about.
“Besides, this PSS isn’t new. Governments have talked about this for decades. I want to trust that our leaders know better than to make the same mistake from years ago. I cannot believe that the other people in the government will simply give out citizenship as claimed,” he said.
The level of understanding of the PSS varies from person to person, or household to household. Some, like Zuliadi, have decided to place their trust in the state government, while others believe that their children’s future is at stake because of the PSS.
Jinori Mikil, 67, is one such person. The farmer and former village chief of Kampung Tahak felt more looked after under the BN administration.
“There was more bantuan. School fees, senior citizens now the price of goods is even higher. I don’t see any benefits under this new government,” he said.
The ability of a candidate to reach out and touch the hearts of voters is clearly imperative as Jinori lamented that the candidates were also not sensitive to the needs of the people, saying that one of them had turned down his request for help in the past.
John Andrew Yap, 46, also from Kampung Tahak, similarly felt overlooked by both governments in the last few years.
“I was hoping this new government would be different, but the fact is, it is the same people. They promise and promise, but don’t deliver. As much as the PSS is important, I think our development comes first.
“Give that to us, and show us you’re sincere, that’s how you win the hearts of the people here,” he said.
Even if concerned about the PSS and other problems, voters here understand that the upcoming polls is just a by-election and their decision will not affect a change in government.
“Because of that, it may be best just to support the government of the day. Why not? They’re new, give them a chance to prove themselves now,” said Yap.