Reports by MUGUNTAN VANAR, PHILIP GOLINGAI, TARRENCE TAN and KRISTY INUS
SANDAKAN: The Sandakan by-election is likely to see DAP retaining the parliamentary seat with a reduced majority. But a dramatic upset by Parti Bersatu Sabah cannot be ruled out if the voter turnout is in its favour.
Vivian Wong of DAP is set to win the seat that fell vacant when her father, two-term Sandakan MP Datuk Stephen Wong, died of a heart attack on March 28.
In GE14, Stephen won by a 10,098-vote majority in a straight fight against Barisan Nasional.
Political punters expect Vivian to win with a margin of about 3,000 to 5,000 votes against her main rival, Datuk Linda Tsen of PBS, in the five-cornered fight.
On the other hand, the chances of the impossible becoming possible today depend on who turn up to vote.
The mathematics of a PBS miracle in Sandakan boils down to a high turnout of Muslim voters and a super low turnout of their Chinese counterparts.
About 45% of the registered voters in Sandakan are Muslim bumiputra consisting mainly of the Suluk, Bajau and Bugis Sungai.
The Chinese make up 51% while the rest are Kadazandusun and other races.
In the first week of campaigning, the attendance at the DAP ceramah was dismal, even with top-gun speakers such as DAP adviser Lim Kit Siang, DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng and Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail of PKR.
Midpoint in the two-week campaign, DAP pressed the panic button. It worked because there were more urban Chinese at the party’s events over the last three days.
On Tuesday, there was a large crowd at a ceramah whose main speaker was PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. Sabah Chief Minister and Parti Warisan Sabah president Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal was also a crowd-puller.
The mood had changed among the core DAP supporters, who are mostly Chinese. They were getting pumped up over the by-election although the outcome will not lead to a change of government.
PBS, meanwhile, continued its walkabout strategy.
It is a gruelling endeavour for Tsen to walk house-to-house and shop-to-shop to press the flesh and hand out leaflets.
The Chinese voters were pleasant to the PBS candidate and were also unhappy with the Pakatan Harapan/Warisan government’s unfulfilled promises and the rising cost of living.
But most of them who voted for DAP in GE14 are not unhappy enough to vote for PBS this time.
They would either again make a mark in the box next to the rocket symbol on the ballot paper or stay at home in protest.
There is a big question mark on whether the Chinese living in Sandakan will turn out in droves and whether those living in places like Kota Kinabalu, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore are motivated enough to return home to cast their votes.There is little reason for disappointed or politically fatigued voters to spend time and money to go back to their hometown.
In the Muslim areas, the mood is different among the communities that traditionally support Umno.
Through campaigns led by Sabah Umno chief and Kinabatangan MP Datuk Seri Bung Moktar Radin, and Umno supreme council member Datuk Seri Abdul Rahman Dahlan as well as former Dewan Rakyat speaker Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia, the sentiments are pro-PBS.
The Muslim bumiputra voters were also excited with the appearance of Umno leaders from the peninsula, such as deputy president Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan and former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.
However, Warisan through its president Mohd Shafie also has swayed over the Muslim voters, especially those from the Bajau and Suluk communities.
They see him as their supreme leader and he could influence them to vote for Vivian.
The key to getting Muslim voters in less affluent areas to go out to vote is to provide duit tambang (transport money) to mobilise them.
The party that can do so can expect the support of these voters.
In GE14, the voter turnout in the Sandakan parliamentary seat was about 71%. In this by-election, political pundits do not expect it to exceed 65%.
They reckon that the lower the turnout, the lower DAP’s margin of victory will be.
If DAP wins Sandakan by fewer than 5,000 votes, critics will consider it a loss because it is half the majority recorded in GE14.