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FULFILLING PLEDGES: Najib has continued to pour in aid to the state, especially in Sibu
DATUK Seri Najib Razak's visit to Sarawak last week, including to the riverine town of Sibu where the majority of voters voted against the ruling Barisan Nasional two years ago, gave him an opportunity to directly inform the people of what the government has done, its future plans as well as to get feedback.
The walkabout at the Sibu central market last Friday, where he met and chatted with traders and patrons, was in fact his third. But he still brought cheer to the locals, who gave him a rousing welcome.
His tour of the iconic market, reputed to be the largest in the country with 1,100 regular stalls and between 200 and 250 tamu operated by the natives, that day and in February and May 2010, left him with lasting memories. He aptly described the people there as a "microcosm of 1Malaysia".
Despite the loss of the Sibu parliamentary seat, dubbed the "Battle of the Mighty Rejang" in a May 16, 2010 by-election, Najib has ensured that BN kept its promises to the people of Sibu. It has not withheld aid to the people while development projects continue to pour in.
Among the good news announced by Najib was the commencement of the second phase of the Sibu flood mitigation project in the middle of this month and the other phases to be carried out in stages. The first phase, involving RM250 million for the construction of five drainage systems, has been completed.
Under the first phase, the government dredged five main bottleneck areas along Sungai Rejang to improve the flow, apart from undertaking five major drainage works to address the perennial flooding of low-lying areas in Sibu.
Local political observers believe that BN still has a chance to recapture Sibu in the next general election, although the constituency is predominantly Chinese, provided it fields the right candidate, necessarily from the Sarawak United People's Party (SUPP).
BN lost the seat to DAP by a mere 398 votes in the by-election following the death of BN incumbent Datuk Robert Lau Hoi Chew. But going by the votes garnered by BN in the three state seats in the constituency at last year's state election, BN should have won Sibu.
In the state election, BN won Bawang Assan by 1,808 votes and Nangka by 5,302 votes, but lost Pelawan by 6,391 votes, with a net majority of 719 votes more than the opposition.
SUPP candidate Lau polled 18,447 votes in the by-election while Sarawak DAP chairman Wong Ho Leng received 18,845. Independent candidate Narawi Haron secured 232 votes.
Wong's slim majority and the fact that the natives now appear to have warmed to BN are reasons Najib has not given up on Bandar Sibu.
SUPP, however, is unlikely to pull off a miracle in Bandar Kuching, the seat it lost in 2004 and 2008 to DAP. It needs a swing of at least 8,000 voters in its favour to win, based on the state election results.
The party lost both Padungan and Pending state seats under Bandar Kuching to DAP, with a combined majority of 15,479 votes in the last state election.
Despite the vote count, the second leg of "Jelajah Janji diTepati", a platform for Malaysians to see for themselves the extent of promises fulfilled by the government, was held in the state capital.
It was Najib's second stop after Batu Pahat, Johor, in his nine-stop nationwide programme.
Addressing the large crowd at the two-day event, dubbed the 1Malaysia Fair, on Saturday, Najib assured the people that if the BN remained in power after the 13th general election, road infrastructure would reach even the remotest parts of the state such as Bario and Ba'Kelalan.
Other development projects earmarked include the RM200 million Sri Aman Hospital and RM200 million Batang Sadong bridge.
Najib had made 30 walkabouts in Sarawak from Feb 22, 2010 to July 11 last year, during which he approved 313 projects totalling RM2.25 billion.
Of this, 248 have been completed, 43 are ongoing and work on the remaining 22 would start soon.
Sarawak has always been an important state to BN. But with the exception of Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu led by Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud, the other Sarawak BN component parties are under pressure to retain control of BN's existing 29 parliamentary seats.
The yet-to-be-resolved SUPP leadership tussle, split in Sarawak People's Democratic Party (SPDP) resulting in the sacked leaders or a "Group of Five" working against the party, and the attempt by newly approved BN-friendly Sarawak Workers Party (SWP) to kill off Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) have weakened these parties.
It looks like some parties will have to depend heavily on the assistance of their allies while others will lose the option of fielding their choices and agree to make way for partyless candidates.