Beauty queen Rampas out to steal hearts of voters in Kiulu, Sabah

Jo-Anna (left) and Joniston.

Jo-Anna (left) and Joniston.

KOTA KINABALU: A former beauty queen is likely to lead an Opposition assault against an ex-journalist in a place few have heard of.

Mention Kiulu and you will likely be asked where that is. But this sleepy little sub-district tucked in the foothills of Mount Kinabalu of Sabah has been thrust in the national spotlight because of the anticipated showdown.

Law graduate Jo-Anna Sue Henley Rampas, 29, was the former Unduk Ngadau (Sabah Harvest Festival) queen, a high-profile event in Sabah.

She is also a former singer and model and is touted to contest in the state seat against incumbent Parti Bersatu Sabah's Datuk Joniston Bangkuai.

Rampas, the Parti Warisan Sabah candidate, will pose a stern challenge for Bangkuai, who won the seat on a razor-thin majority of 44 votes in the 2013 elections.

Warisan party sources said that Rampas is the likely choice for the seat, although former PKR candidate Rhodes Panilau, who is with Warisan now, was also being considered.

Born to an ethnic Kadazandusun mother from Kiulu and a British father, she has been going from kampung to kampung since April last year.

The political reasons may be obvious to some, but Rampas is holding her cards close to her chest.

"I still don't know if I will be contesting against Datuk Joniston. But whoever it is I am going against, seasoned politician or not, my focus will be on winning the majority vote," said Rampas, downplaying rumours of her candidacy, adding that any decision to field her in Kiulu lies in the hands of the party's top leadership.

The Wirawati Warisan deputy chief comes from a family where politics is no stranger - her mother was involved in the now-defunct Parti Akar while her uncle Louis Rampas was the PBS assemblyman before Bangkuai took over.

Land and basic infrastructure are among the main issues being pushed by Warisan in Kiulu.

To his credit, former journalist Bangkuai successfully got the state government to declare Kiulu a sub-district, in addition to obtaining approvals for more roads and other basic amenities.

He has also raised the profile of the scenic district as an eco-tourism attraction.

Kiulu is a hilly constituency that consists of 105 villages spread over 388 sq km.

But the tough terrain is not only physical, but political too.

The state seat is likely to see contestants from local native-based parties Sabah STAR and Parti Cinta Sabah, with independents expected to join the fray.