BEAUFORT: “Tatap” and “ubah balik” are the two oft-used words a trader hears among her customers at her food stall in Kampung Ambawa Kelatuan in the Kimanis parliamentary constituency.
Tatap is a Sabah slang for “definitely” and ubah balik is “change back”.
The locals supporting Parti Warisan Sabah are saying “tatap” as in, it is for sure the Sabah-based party will win the by-election.
The Barisan Nasional hardcore fans are repeating “ubah balik” to urge those who voted against the coalition to support it again.
“Half of my customers are saying “tatap” and the other half are saying “ubah balik.”
“This by-election will be a close fight, ” said the shop owner who did not want to be identified.
It is 50-50 in Kimanis where voters will show their support for “tatap” or “ubah balik” in the ballot boxes tomorrow.
It is a straight fight between Datuk Karim Bujang (Pakatan Harapan-allied Warisan) and Datuk Mohamad Alamin (Barisan’s Umno).
The constituency, about 60km from Kota Kinabalu, is sandwiched between the eastern foothills of the mountainous Crocker Range and the South China Sea.
There are 29,664 voters in the constituency with some 20,000 Muslim bumiputra who are mostly Malay Brunei, about 8,000 Kadazandusun, and fewer than 1,000 Chinese and others.
The Kimanis seat was declared vacant after the Federal Court, on Dec 2, upheld the Election Court’s ruling that nullified four-term Kimanis MP Datuk Seri Anifah Aman’s 156-majority victory in GE14.
Institute of Strategic Analysis and Policy Research (Insap) head of research Dr Choong Pui Yee said Kimanis will be a very close fight.
“Things are very volatile. How the parties frame their messages or the sudden last-minute blow-up of a controversial issue may tip the sizable fence-sitters, ” she said.
In the last days of campaigning, Choong observed that Barisan was catching up with Warisan’s lead.
“It remains to be seen. It is hard to gauge the voters, ” she said.
Unlike in Peninsular Malaysia where people are more open in expressing their views, the political researcher said Sabahans are reluctant to tell who they support.
“They are very diplomatic. On one hand, they will say good things about Barisan especially about what Anifah had done in terms of development. On the other hand, they will also say good things about Karim who is giving assistance, ” she said.
Choong said the socio-economic status of the voters made a lot of difference.
“For the rural folk, when you talk about PSS (Sabah Temporary Pass for illegal immigrants) and major development issues, they don’t really care as their immediate concern is their bread and butter issues, ” she said.
“But in urban areas and semi-rural areas, the voters are concerned about how the PSS move, which involves illegal immigrants, will affect their economic competition and job opportunities.”
Choong noted that some voters were quite sympathetic to the Warisan-led state government.
“They are willing to give them more time. They say that it is just two years. It is unlike Tanjung Piai where the voters didn’t care anymore (that Pakatan was in power for just 18 months) and they wanted their voices to be heard, ” she said.
According to Universiti Malaysia Sabah senior lecturer and political analyst Dr Zaini Othman, the issues dominating the electoral campaign were PSS and the problems in Kimanis in terms of infrastructure and economy.
Ilham Centre research fellow and University Malaya political analyst Prof Hamidin Abdul Hamid forecast that Warisan would win the by-election if there was a high voter turnout on election day.
Warisan’s pull factor, said Prof Hamidin, was its power as the ruling party in the state and it is friendly with the Pakatan government at the Federal level.
“The voters are not totally happy with Warisan but they are willing to give it a chance as it is the ruling party, ” he said.
The push factor against Barisan, according to Prof Hamidin, was that it did not have a “big personality” in Sabah to lure the voters.
“Traditionally, Sabah is a big man’s country. We don’t see that in Kimanis for Barisan. The disintegration of Umno and Barisan has had an impact on the people. In Sabah, when the leader moves, the supporters move, ” he said.
In Sabah, almost all the Umno assemblymen and MPs have left the party except for Kinabatangan MP Datuk Seri Bung Moktar Radin, to join Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, other Pakatan parties or became independent.
Anifah was the Umno warlord for Kimanis. However, he has left the party to become an independent and is now supporting Barisan in the by-election.
Datuk Ariffin Arif is the assemblyman of Membakut, which is one of the two state seats in Kimanis.
He won under the BN ticket but quit Umno to join Bersatu.
However, Prof Hamidin noted that despite Umno’s disintegration, its machinery in Kimanis was working well.
A factor working in Barisan’s favour is in the Warisan’s candidate himself. Karim, who was a five-term assemblyman of Bongawan (the other state seat in Kimanis), is seen as “muka lama” (someone familiar) in the constituency, he said.
Another pull factor for Barisan, said Prof Hamidin, is the PSS issue, especially among the Kadazandusun voters.
“Even if people are drawn to PSS, not many understand it. It is a very emotional subject. It can be a determining factor on the margin of winning, ” he said,
It is a close fight in Kimanis with a “tatap” advantage for Warisan.
But, Barisan’s “ubah balik” has really latched on unto the hearts of many.
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