BELAGA: “Very confusing” is an appropriate description to sum up the political atmosphere in the Belaga state constituency in central Sarawak.
Voters in this district - home of the controversial RM6bil Bakun hydro-dam project - are very confused with the fiery personal politicking that has enveloped in this largest state constituency in Sarawak and Malaysia.
No one can blame them. Even the politicians in Sarawak, whether at divisional, central party or state level, are caught up in the confusion.
Picture this scenario that has unfolded in Belaga during this crucial campaign period ahead of the May 20 polling day.
Stanley Ajang is the incumbent state assemblyman for Belaga.
Ajang was in Barisan Nasional last week. Today, he is challenging a candidate from Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS), a member of the Barisan coalition.
Ajang was a member of the deregistered Parti Bangsa Dayak Sarawak (PBDS). He tried to join Parti Pesaka Bumiputra Bersatu after PBDS became defunct but was rejected. He joined Sarawak Progressive Democratic Party (SPDP) but Barisan decided the Belaga seat would be given to Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) to contest.
He then tried to resign from SPDP and join PRS to be nominated for Belaga.
However, PRS president Datuk Seri Dr James Masing rejected the idea, saying he must apply to join as an ordinary member first.
He added that PRS had already nominated teacher Liwan Lagang for Belaga.
Unhappy, Ajang decided to stand as an Independent using the palm tree as his symbol.
Now Ajang’s supporters are telling voters he has the support of SPDP and that Barisan will accept him back if he wins against PRS’s Lagang.
To make matters even more complex for voters, both Ajang and Lagang are natives of Belaga, grew up in the same place and have known each other for years.
Folks in Belaga know both men well. The electorate is torn. .
Ajang is still very popular in the area as he visited the constituency often when he was its assemblyman.
Lagang is also popular; being a teacher in a native rural region, he is much respected and trusted. He was also the district education officer. He is standing on the Barisan ticket, a coalition which enjoys the support of Belaga, even though there are outstanding problems caused by the relocation of people for the dam project.
“We respect Ajang and support him as a person, but we also support Barisan. We respect Lagang, but we don’t like what has been done to Ajang by the PRS.
“This is all very confusing. It's so difficult to decide what to do, to vote for Ajang as a person we support or to vote for Barisan as a coalition we support,” said Cecilia Payou, a Kenyah trader living in one of the longhouses downstream of Bakun.
Ironically, both Masing and Ajang were senior leaders of PBDS. Belaga was a stronghold of the PBDS and die-hard supporters of the former PBDS are now campaigning hard to create an upset against PRS, the offshoot of PBDS.
Masing was PBDS information chief and Ajang was secretary general. Masing was involved in a two-year tussle with PBDS president Datuk Daniel Tajem for the top post and Ajang was in Tajem’s camp.
“Now, some people in Belaga are saying that Masing had sidelined Ajang because he wanted to take revenge against Ajang for supporting Tajem. This is creating even more discontent and confusion,” said housewife Samboi Bawai.
To confuse voters further, Sarawak National Party (SNAP) has joined the fray by nominating another local well known to the voters, John Bampa.
As PBDS is an offshoot of SNAP, supporters of SNAP now want to upset both PBDS and PRS even though Bampa has fewer chances of winning.
Barisan and PRS leaders are racing against time to clear the confusion as it may have an impact on the votes.
Sarawak Barisan chairman Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud on Thursday went to the Sungai Asap Resettlement Scheme and urged the folk to vote for the party that could bring them progress.
“It is not the individual that can ensure your future, but the party,” he told about 1,000 folk during a gathering.