SANDAKAN: Voter turnout will make or break the outcome of the Sandakan by-election for DAP and Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS).
For Vivian Wong of DAP to retain the seat that her late father Datuk Stephen Wong won twice, with a high majority, she needs voters – especially the Chinese – to turn up in large numbers.
For Datuk Linda Tsen of PBS to create an upset, it would be better for her if the sizeable outstation and young voters do not return home to vote as they did in droves in the 14th General Election.
In GE14, the voter turnout for the Sandakan parliamentary seat, which Stephen won with a 10,098-vote majority in a straight fight against Barisan Nasional, was 72%.
DAP and PBS expect a lower voter turnout for this by-election on the east coast of Sabah that was called after Stephen died of a heart attack on March 28.
There are 40,131 eligible voters, of whom 51% are Chinese, 45% Muslim bumiputra and the rest mostly Kadazandusun.
Besides Wong and Tsen, three independent candidates are vying for the seat – former Sabah PAS chairman and former Sabah Parti Amanah Negara chairman Hamzah Abdullah, businessman Chia Siew Yung and former political worker Sulaiman Abdul Samat.
Sabah DAP secretary Chan Foong Hin said his party is hoping for a higher voter turnout.
He said his party is making an effort to encourage outstation voters to return and vote.
“We are doing something through social media to attract those living outside Sandakan to come back.”
A PBS insider said a lower voter turnout would be advantageous to them as that would mean that those who voted for DAP would have not gone out to vote as a protest against the Pakatan Harapan government.
“It is difficult to read the mood but there is some unhappiness with the one year of the new government,” he said.
He, however, said DAP should be worried about the quiet mood among voters.
“It may be a sign that their supporters are not coming out or coming back,” he said.
Five days from the May 11 polling, DAP reckons it has a 55% lead against PBS while PBS admits that it is trailing by 4,000 votes.
Political observers say Tsen, standing as the single opposition party candidate, is likely to retain the vote bank of around 8,000 voters who traditionally voted for Barisan over the past three general elections.
“She is likely to get these traditional Barisan votes if they turn up,” said an observer of Sandakan politics.
Umno, MCA, Sabah STAR, SAPP, Usno Baru and PAS have made way for PBS and are supporting it.
However, some local analysts do not see much change in the voting pattern from the last general election because there are voters who feel that it is still premature to pass judgment on the Pakatan government.
A political pundit noted that DAP has a solid vote bank of 10,000 voters. However, he said some of them might not turn up to vote as a protest against the government.