BETONG: A battle royale is playing out between PAS and its breakaway faction Parti Amanah Negara in Beting Maro.
This state constituency is made up of Malay fishing and farming villages on either side of a huge river, a 300km drive east along some bumpy roads from Kuching.
This is where PAS came closest to winning its first ever state seat in Sarawak, and where the party hopes to finally make a breakthrough on May 7. In the last state election in 2011, PAS candidate Abang Ahmad Kerdee Abang Masagus lost by just 391 votes to Barisan Nasional’s Razaili Gapor of PBB.
The stakes are also high for Amanah which is fielding 13 candidates. It will be embarrassing if the party fails to muster support in its maiden outing, more so if its performance is worse compared to PAS, with which it is clashing head-on in five seats.
PAS is fielding 11 candidates.
In Beting Maro, Amanah is counting on the experience of its candidate, Andri Zulkarnaen Hamden, 43.
A former PAS member who helped campaign for PAS in Beting Maro in the past two state elections, Andri is no stranger to roping in the votes.
The Sibu-born is up against the incumbent Razaili from Barisan as well as PAS’ Hamidah Mokhtar.
“I’m up against the Barisan machinery as well as Kelantan PAS in this election,” he said, explaining his underdog status.
Andri is depending on his network of family and relatives in Beting Maro. He believes that he might just scrape through to victory if they all backed him.
PAS is not taking any of this lying down. The party is a close second to Barisan in the number of flags, posters and banners put up all over the constituency.
PAS secretary-general Datuk Takiyuddin Hassan said his party was not taking Amanah for granted.
“We expect an increase in number of votes for our candidates, but it is not impossible that Amanah may take some of our votes,” he said.
Infrastructure is the main issue. Beting Maro has new facilities includling community halls and big, modern schools but there is still much to be done.
Local resident Buhari Gom, 82, said PAS took years to build a network of members and supporters in the close-knit community.
“They’re now split. I worry that friends and neighbours will end up not talking to each other after this.”
At the ballot box, the main beneficiary of a PAS-Amanah rivalry will likely be Barisan.
“With both PAS and Amanah busy fighting each other, we will have the advantage,” said Razaili.
He said support for Barisan had been strong since the start of campaigning. More than 3,000 supporters turned up to show their support on nomination day.
On Monday, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak visited Beting Maro.
A lack of a stable water supply tops the grouses of voters. When Najib announced two projects worth RM54mil to upgrade the water supply system, the crowd in the event at the SK Pusa school went wild.
Yesterday saw Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi visiting Beting Maro. The Deputy Prime Minister among others announced a new hall for the SMK Beladin school.
With Barisan pulling out all the stops, the coalition has an edge. By how much, no one in the keenly contested seat dares to say for sure.
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