THE Balingian by-election is a rural election, as reflected by the relatively small number of polling centres (there are 21) and their locations.
As the eligible 13,233 (there were 133 early voters) go to the polls today, they will be entering school and community halls with names like SK Kampung Petanak, SK Dua Sungai, Dewan Serbaguna Kampung Tellian Tengah and Rumah Kumbong.
According to a timetable provided by the Information Department, all the polling centres will open at 8am sharp, with the smallest and rural closing by 2pm.
The largest centre, SJK Chong Boon — the only centre with more votes for the Opposition than for Barisan Nasional in the 2011 state elections — will close at 5pm.
Only four out of the 21 are scheduled to open for the entire day.
The state constituency, which includes most of Mukah town centre, is named after Batang Balingian.
Pekan Balingian itself is located some 60km from Mukah.
At Pekan Balingian, there is an old town and a new town. The former along the river remains the main trading area. The new town, comprising a few row of shophouses, is mostly empty, with several units used as swiftlet farms.
Conservative voting trends reflect the voters’ profiles, with substantially more above 45 years old (7,494) compared to those under (5,872).
Penghulu Wee Key Chuan is a community leader at Pekan Balingian.
A second generation Sarawakian Chinese from Xiamen, China, Wee said the rural voters were Barisan supporters.
“People here will not vote against Barisan. They are not against the state government. But that’s not to say people don’t have complaints,”
Wee told The Star this week in his grocery store at the old Balingian town.
“Young people here are more
daring. The other day when Pakatan Rakyat people held a ceramah (rally) at the old town, around 200 or 300 went. That’s a lot for a small place.”
Wee said issues revolved around basic necessities and livelihood. He lamented industries like rubber and pepper were no longer a mainstay in Balingian.
“It’s been replaced by big business, especially with palm oil estates and the aluminium smelter.”
His son, who is in his 20s, claimed most Balingian voters had “nothing good to say about the smelter”.
“It’s like we are lab rats. The population is fewer here, so the government felt there would be less resistance. If it’s really so good and non-polluting, why not build it closer to the cities, where it will benefit more people?” he said, declining to be named.
But his father does not believe voters would vote for Pakatan just because of the smelter.
Wee believed Barisan would get more votes this time around, “because they (party) announced the schools.”
Asked about his support, Wee spoke about his business.
“I don’t really mind the big businesses coming in. They employ foreigners and they bring me some extra business.”
Over at Rumah Chili (which, at less than five minutes drive from the Press Metal Bhd aluminium smelter, is one of the nearest longhouses to the plant), voters showed ambivalence for the mammoth factory.
Longhouse resident Inting Chili told Land Development Minister Tan Sri Dr James Masing when he visited locals had been “kind” and “positive” to the factory and deserved to have their problems looked into by the government.
“The factory does not really provide us employment opportunities. What jobs we have there is to do with cleaning only, not much else,” Inting said.
Later, Masing told The Star locals had a right to complain, adding longhouse folks’ requests for agriculture land should be considered favourably by the government.
“We will settle it after the election. At the moment, we can’t make any promises. But I think the request is fair. They want land for agriculture purposes,” Masing said.
The minister, who is PRS president, said sentiment was “very postive” for Barisan.
In the 2011 state elections, voters gave ex-chief minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud a majority of 5,154 votes in a three-cornered fight.
Back then, the state seat had 11,792 registered voters. Turnout then was rather low, especially for a rural area, at 69.98%.
The contest today is between Barisan’s Yussibnosh Balo and Pakatan’s Abdul Jalil Bujang. The former is a Christian Melanau, while the latter is a Muslim Melanau.
Both have roots in Balingian. Yussibnosh is a local boy while Abdul Jalil’s grandmother is from Kampung Lintang, near Pekan Balingian.