KUCHING: There are three seats of note in southern Sarawak this election.
A three-cornered fight in Batu Kawah has been described as the hottest, while an interesting battle is brewing in Batu Kitang, with both PKR and DAP contesting in a five-way fight.
There may be no hotter seat in Kuching than Batu Kawah. The late entry of Liu Thian Leong, a Chinese education heavyweight, could possibly split the votes of Barisan Nasional supporters.
This is a three-way fight between DAP's incumbent Christina Chiew, Liu (who has declared himself a Barisan-friendly independent) and SUPP president Datuk Dr Sim Kui Hian.
In 2011, Chiew, then 27, won this Chinese-majority urban seat with a slim majority of 543 votes.
Chiew, who keeps a low profile, is a diligent community worker and is also known for her strong command of Malay and is a pantun-writing (Malay poems) enthusiast.
SUPP's Dr Sim has built up quite a reputation as a humble people's leader. In the last state election, Dr Sim contested in Pending and lost to DAP's Violet Yong.
As such, the cardiologist-turned-politician knows the stakes are high for him. He is at the helm of a party that has seen better days.
Dr Sim will face stiff competition from Liu, who resigned from UPP (the breakaway party of SUPP) to contest. The duo were both vying for the Chief Minister's endorsement to be the Barisan candidate. Dr Sim may have won the Barisan nomination, but Liu should not be counted out.
Batu Kawah has 16,991 voters.
The new seat of Batu Kitang, a semi-urban area, was mostly carved out of Batu Kawah and Kota Sentosa.
Barisan may not have it easy in Batu Kitang. Of the 11 new seats, this is the only one with a Chinese majority at 54.8%. The second largest voting bloc here is Malay/Melanau at 20.1%.
Recent history has shown that new seats can fall to the Opposition. In 2006, Barisan lost the then-newly-created seat of Kota Sentosa to DAP. In 2011, DAP retained Kota Sentosa with an even bigger majority.
As such, Barisan's SUPP candidate Lo Khere Chiang may not have a walk in the park in Batu Kitang. Among factors that could become Opposition strong points are recent spells of heavy flooding in Batu Kitang.
It is also worth noting that this new seat is carved out of two existing seats held by the Opposition.
One of Lo's opponents is PKR's Voon Shiak Ni, the Wanita wing's national vice-president. A teacher-turned-lawyer-turned-politician, she is soft-spoken and friendly.
Interestingly, Lo and Voon have organised and participated in community events in the past. The battle between these two friends should prove to be an interesting contest.
However, the temperature in Batu Kitang has been raised with the last-minute entry of DAP's Abdul Aziz Isa, who was originally slated to stand in Stakan. This 11th hour move is seen as a retaliation against PKR for fielding its candidates in five other overlapping seats.
There are 17,494 voters in Batu Kitang.
A DAP stronghold if there ever was one. State DAP chief Chong Chieng Jen has won this seat twice, in 2006 and 2011, the second time with a larger majority.
Chong has also won the Bandar Kuching Parliamentary constituency three times, the last time with a majority of almost 20,000 votes.
SUPP is fielding its public complaints bureau head Wilfred Yap for this seat. Yap, a lawyer (like Chong), is extremely outspoken.
But he is also a Barisan loyalist. In the 2013 general election, Yap was considered as Barisan's Stampin candidate. When he was dropped in favour of the incumbent, Yap conceded the ticket gracefully.
Chong might have the upper hand here, but Yap is always keen for a fight.
Voters here will enjoy the candidates' verbal boxing matches. Urban issues, including national ones, will feature heavily. Here, bread-and-butter issues will take a backseat to national issues like corruption and the high cost of living. Middle-class voters here would also be aware of allegations of gerrymandering and the sort.
Kota Sentosa has over 25,761 voters.
Sarawak polls: Hot seats in the central region
Sarawak polls: Hot seats in the northern region