LABUAN: The run-up to the polls sprung some surprises in this international offshore financial centre.
Many among this islands 20,783 voters were anticipating a 2004 rematch between Barisan Nasionals Datuk Suhaili Abdul Rahman of Umno and local PAS chief Matusin Abdul Rahman for Labuans sole MP seat.
The first twist came when the two-term Suhaili, the Labuan Umno chief and Labuan Corporation (the islands governing body) chairman was dropped.
Instead, Barisan named Suhailis deputy in Labuan Umno and at the corporation, Datuk Yusof Mahal, as its candidate.
Responding to puzzled party members and supporters, Suhaili said he was not contesting as he wanted to care for his hospitalised wife.
On his part, Yusof insisted that he did not lobby for the candidacy and that Suhaili had given him his blessings.
Yusof's candidacy was immediately endorsed by prominent Labuan businessman Yussof Mohamad, who heads the islands chapter of the Malaysian Malay Chamber of Commerce.
Both Suhaili and Yussof Mohamad were widely seen as heading different groups within Labuan Umno and Yusof Mahals selection as candidate was perceived as being acceptable to everyone.
Labuan islanders were in for another surprise on Feb 24 when contractor Lau Seng Kiat turned up at the nomination centre and filed his papers as an Independent. The contest for the MP seat turned into a three-cornered fight.
Yusof will thus be taking on Lau and PAS Matusin in the constituency that is seen as a safe seat for Barisan.
The business community here is, however, not taking any chances and the Labuan Chinese Chamber of Commerce chairman Chin Chee Kee said it would be a gross mistake for the business community to support any other group apart from the Barisan.
He said, otherwise, it might give the wrong signal that the islands business community was not appreciative of the progress brought about by the Government.
We must look at the bigger picture and ensure the Barisan wins with a comfortable majority so as not to interrupt the on-going development and economic turnaround brought about by the Government during Suhailis terms as MP, Chin added.