SANDAKAN: With one more week to go in the Sandakan parliamentary by-election campaign, the contesting parties are pushing to get the vote out.
The campaign is now in fifth gear with candidates pulling out all stops to woo voters.
Of the five contestants, the DAP is seen as more aggressive, in terms of campaign activities since nomination day on April 27.
Its candidate Vivian Wong Shir Yee has been holding between five to eight walkabouts and door-to-door campaigns at areas with Chinese and Malay Bumiputra majority, meeting constituents and distributing flyers, with her full machinery on tow.
The party also holds ceramah (talks) every evening, featuring prominent leaders such as DAP advisor Lim Kit Siang, and Finance Minister cum DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng.
Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) candidate Datuk Linda Tsen Thau Lin, however, had been adopting a laid-back approach at the start of campaign, but is now slowly gaining momentum, by meeting voters of various backgrounds.
With less than five walkabout programmes daily, Tsen’s campaign comprises meet-and-greet sessions, listening to feedback, and distributing flyers at water villages, the marketplace, business premises, and housing areas. The party has yet to conduct a ceramah (talk).
The three independent candidates – oil palm executive Chia Siew Yung, former Sabah Parti Amanah Negara (Amanah) chairman Hamzah Abdullah, and former administrative assistant at the DAP Sandakan Parliamentary Service Centre Sulaiman Abdul Samat – are also actively doing their walkabouts and talks, albeit on a smaller scale.
Between the five, DAP seems to have received the most media coverage as of now. However, the spotlight may shift over the next few days when more opposition leaders turn up to show their support towards PBS.
Party president Datuk Seri Dr Maximus Ongkili had said leaders from Gabungan Bersatu Sabah, Umno, and Pas would make a presence to assist in the campaign.
Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) academician and political analyst Dr Lee Kuok Tiung said DAP, as part of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) ruling party, has more resources, which makes them more visible than the rest.
“All the government and mainstream media seem to be giving more coverage to Wong. On paper, at the moment, DAP should win this by-election. PBS meanwhile is the underdog and banking on an upset win.
“Based on previous election results, this is not impossible as Sandakan voters have a tendency to vote for the opposition. For me, this by-election will be between DAP and PBS,” he added.
Lee noted bread-and-butter issues would play a significant factor in the by-election, adding that PH’s largely undelivered manifesto in the 14th General Election might take on toll on DAP.
Meanwhile, UMS senior lecturer and political researcher Dr Zaini Othman observed that DAP still exerted a major influence in the constituency, by virtue of being an opposition voice before.
“But this time around, the party, as part of the ruling government, is in a defensive position. They have to go all out to convince voters that they are still the best party to serve the interests of the Sandakan people.
“Given so many insight crunch and stories behind the management of Sandakan Municipal Council, they have to make more efforts to win support, especially among voters, in Malay majority areas,” he said.
Zaini also viewed the Sandakan by-election as a battleground to test the voters' political literacy behaviour.
“Looking from the mechanical elements of independent candidates, the three are quite unorganised. As such, it would entirely depend on voters literacy level, for any of them to make a surprise and win.”
The Sandakan parliament seat fell vacant following the death of former member of parliament Datuk Stephen Wong, who was state DAP chairman and Minister of Health and People’s Wellbeing.
The polling day is set on May 11.