SANDAKAN: The people of Sandakan are set to cast their votes in the first by-election to be held in Sabah after Parti Warisan Sabah and Pakatan Harapan’s DAP and PKR took the state government from Barisan Nasional a year ago.
The parliamentary constituency – within it are the state seats of Tanjung Papat and Elopura – comprising 51% (about 20,000) Chinese voters and 45% (about 18,000) Muslim bumiputra of various ethnicities, including Bajau, Suluk, Sungai, Bugis and Javanese.
The rest are mainly Kadazandusun and other races such as Filipinos and Indians.
Together, they will decide the five-cornered fight involving DAP’s Vivian Wong, 30; Parti Bersatu Sabah’s Linda Tsen, 64; and three independents: Hamzah Abdullah, 65; a former PAS and Amanah state leader, oil palm executive Chia Siew Yun, 45; and former political worker Sulaiman Abdul Samat, 36.
Sandakan, the first state capital in colonial times, boomed during the timber heyday of the 1970s and early 1980s.
It experienced a resurgence in the late 1990s thanks to high oil palm prices.
However, the commodity has been going through a rough patch in recent years.
The agricultural and fishing municipality that sits close to the southern Philippine sea borders has seen rapid development over the last two decades.
The growth of the oil palm industry has driven massive real estate development that led to a large property overhang.
Over the past weeks of campaigning, key issues with voters centred on the need for more economic stimulus for this east coast Sabah town to counter the lack of job opportunities and migration.
There are also clamour for government financial assistance for fishermen and the poor as well as hope for home ownership through a rent-and-buy scheme for low-cost homes.
Since the creation of the seat in 1971, Sandakan voters have shown that their support cannot be taken for granted.
They do not necessarily go with the flow.
They voted in DAP candidates for three terms from 1978 despite the popularity of the state governments that were then under the defunct Berjaya and later Parti Bersatu Sabah.
In 2004, an independent candidate became the Sandakan MP, and in 2013, the seat went back to DAP during the Barisan government rule.
This by-election was called following the death of Vivian’s father – two-term DAP MP Datuk Stephen Wong, who died of a heart attack on March 28.