KIMANIS, Jan 14 — The campaign for the Kimanis by-election is past the halfway mark and while both sides have expressed confidence of victory, observers say the lukewarm response from voters shows that the contest is still wide open.
“Fifty-fifty” seems to be the common refrain heading into the second week of campaigning.
“It is definitely hard to tell still given the kind of attendance, rhetoric and feedback from the ground. People are holding their cards close so it’s still anybody’s game,” said University Malaysia Sabah lecturer Lee Kuok Tiung.
An Umno party worker said an early prediction expected the majority Brunei-Malay vote to be split between the government’s Parti Warisan Sabah candidate and the Umno candidate so it is crucial to win over the fence-sitters and minorities in the 29,664-voter constituency.
“We are reasonably confident that the people here are loyal to Umno. I think many are disillusioned by the PH (Pakatan Harapan) government and its broken promises. Development has been non-existent, and many are worse off now. It may be close, but we think we can scrape by with a 1,000 or so majority,” said the party insider.
In the Warisan camp, the tagline is “Tolak BN”. The party has been forced on the defensive by its rival’s criticism and communal politics but is using its role in the state government to counter this.
“They know they have the advantage because they are in the driver’s seat. They are the government now, and that will always give them the upper hand. People know that if they want development, they have to go with the government,” said Lee.
He said that although the popular belief is that the majority Muslim native vote will be evenly split, he tipped Warisan to get the edge, particularly with the Kadazandusun and Murut minority — known colloquially as KDM — and the non-Muslim community, as well as the Chinese, who together make up about 35 per cent of the electoral roll here.
“If you tag on the former Umno supporters who may swing with the influence of Membakut assembly Datuk Ariffin Arif who is with PPBM now, I think Umno may be trailing,” said Lee.
His observations may prove to be accurate as former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak also let this slip during one of his appearances here.
In the Brunei-Malay village of Pimping in Membakut last Saturday, the embattled Pekan MP addressed the modest crowd who were huddled under the tent as it rained and said Umno still had the loyalty of most of the voters there.
“We need the youth and the KDM people to support us. The rest are OK — we know they are loyal to us. We want to win, not by a little, but by a lot,” said Najib.
Later that same night, he left the well-paved and lit roads of Pimping and headed to Kampung Kelatuan in Batu Enam, where it was largely a KDM crowd.
Amidst the muddied dimly-lit roads, he spoke of the unfinished Pan Borneo Highway and the hotly debated Sabah Temporary Pass (PSS).
Another analyst said that while the PSS was inevitably going to be a hot topic, it would be futile to harp on it while ignoring the more important bread-and-butter issues.
Comparing the two campaigns, UiTM Sabah political lecturer Asri Salleh said that the Barisan Nasional (BN) election machinery was already at full steam while Warisan was only just entering its stride.
“It’s clear that the BN election machinery is experienced and well organised. From its many ceramahs and information on it well ahead of time, to the billboards and pamphlets and flying in celebrities to attract people to come, they have done all the right things.
“They are investing in this heavily — they are flying down high-profile personalities from Malaya to speak — Najib himself has come twice, Zahid twice. They are not sparing any expense there. It’s obvious they really want to retain this seat,” said Asri.
Warisan has mostly relied on president Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal to do the heavy lifting. He is followed closely by his KDM vice president Datuk Peter Anthony.
Over the weekend, PPBM chairman Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin came to rally support, while Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim will be coming on Tuesday.
While Shafie has been holding his own, he is still outnumbered by senior BN leaders who have pitched in for the campaign here.
“But at the end of the day, it is still down to who can win over the hearts, and to some degree, the minds of the people.
“For all the lethargy now, the last few days will be when things really start heating up, and then people’s sentiments will start to show,” said Asri.
Warisan’s Datuk Karim Bujang will face BN’s Datuk Mohamad Alamin in the January 18 by-election here.
The by-election was called as a result of Karim’s election petition in which he alleged discrepancies in the vote casting process in Kimanis during the general election.
In the May 9 polls, former Umno minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman won the seat with a narrow 156-vote majority, securing 11,942 votes against Karim’s 11,786 votes, while another candidate, Jaafar Ismail of Parti Harapan Rakyat Sabah, obtained 1,300 votes.
Last August, the Election Court declared Anifah’s win null and void, a decision which was backed up by the Federal Court in December.
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