Saturday, March 7, 2009

Still A Guessing Game In Batang Ai By-Election

KUCHING, March 6 (Bernama) -- Even before the Election Commission (EC) announced that the Batang Ai state by-election will be held on April 7, the guessing game over who will be the candidate to defend this Iban-majority seat for the Barisan Nasional (BN) has intensified.

Polling in this rural constituency bordering the Indonesian province of Kalimantan, will be simultaneously held with the by-elections for the Bukit Gantang parliamentary seat in Perak and Bukit Selambau state seat in Kedah.

While political pundits are certain that the opposition will put up a formidable fight -- judging from the results of the May 2006 state polls when the BN incumbent, the late Datuk Dublin Unting Ingkot beat Nicholas Bawin Anggat of Sarawak National Party (SNAP) by 806 votes -- the BN still has the edge.

The Batang Ai constituency, which has 8,006 voters, including 43 postal voters, is vacant following the death of Dublin, 55, who was the Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) vice-president and Assistant Sports and Agriculture Minister, on Feb 24 due to a stroke.

With the BN machinery gearing up for the coming polls and the opposition attempting to make inroads into the Iban heartland, the names of several personalities, including those close to Dublin, had cropped up as the likely BN candidate but PRS is keeping mum on the matter.

The latest on the cards was that of senior government officer Malcolm Mossen Lamoh, an engineer with the state Agriculture Department and a local boy, said to be one of Dublin's close friends who was frequently seen with him at functions and gatherings.

Another engineer, Linang Merejon, from Petronas Carigali, who hails from the same Sebangki Panjai longhouse in Lubok Antu as Dublin, is also said to be favoured by BN leaders besides being described as being "approachable and down-to-earth" by the locals.

Speculations have also centred on two "Nelsons" -- Dublin's private secretary Nelson Naga Alam and Nelson Mujah Girie, the Lubok Antu district officer.

Naga has been servicing the area actively, particularly after Dublin fell into a coma and hospitalised for nine months before his death.

Saying that the candidate's identity was still confidential, PRS secretary-general Wilfred Nissom said, Naga was not keen to "elbow his way", having worked for his boss over the past 10 years and knew the sacrifices that would go with the territory.

"However Naga is ready to take up the challenge if he is asked to contest by the BN leadership," Nissom told Bernama.

In the case of Mujah, his appointment as the polls' returning officer put to rest the speculations about his potential candidacy.

Mujah, the biological brother of Natural Resources and Enviornment Minister Datuk Douglas Uggah Embas, was quoted as saying that his regular appearances alongside Lubok Antu Member of Parliament William Nyallau Badak in public functions in Batang Ai was in his capacity as district officer and not to be perceived as an attempt to lobby for the seat.

Meanwhile Nissom said PRS president Datuk Seri Dr James Masing had submitted one name to state BN chairman Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud and national BN chairman Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi for consideration.

"It is confidential and up to the BN leadership to announce," he said.

On the opposition front, the spotlight is on former Lubok Antu MP Jawah Gerang and Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) Batang Ai chief Bawin, who narrowly lost to Dublin in the last state polls.


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