“SEPANGGAR has everything. You name it,” a 50-something Chinese businessman told me.
To prove his point, he took me for a 75km ride to tour the parliamentary seat adjacent to Kota Kinabalu.
Within the 586sq km constituency are the Inanam and Karambunai state seats.
In GE13, Barisan Nasional/Umno won Sepanggar by a majority of 9,442 votes and Karambunai by 8,532, while PKR won Inanam by 3,202.
According to GE13 statistics, it is a mixed seat of 53,374 voters mainly consisting of Muslims, who are mostly Bajau (52%); Kadazandusun (26%); and Chinese (19%).
We started our journey at Likas Bay in the Kota Kinabalu parliamentary constituency.
As we entered Sepanggar, on the right is Kampung Likas, where Muslims working in private and government sectors live in villages next to a VVIP enclave.
“On the left, you can see the Tun Mustapha Tower (the 30-storey glass tower is one of Sabah’s iconic buildings), the Sabah Chief Minister’s office, and further to the left is the Sabah state assembly,” said the businessman, who votes in Sepanggar.
In case I didn’t get how important the Sepanggar constituency is, he said: “This is the seat of power.”
On the right are the Sabah Women and Children Hospital and the affluent Kingfisher residential area. About 2km down Jalan UMS is what Sabahans call mini Putrajaya. It is the Sabah Federal Government Administrative Complex.
We passed Universiti Malaysia Sabah on the left.
The constituency is a university hub – it has at least five universities and polytechnics. Passing the 1Borneo shopping mall, the largest mall in Borneo, we turned left to Jalan Yayasan Kibagu.
The urban scene changed to something resembling the slums of southern Philippines.
There are resettlements in mangrove and beach areas.
“Ori” (original) and photocopy (illegal) Sabahans live in wooden stilt houses that have illegal electricity extensions.
In front of Kampung Numbak, the businessman said: “I brought a Hong Kong investor pass this village to see a beach where he was interested to build a 200-room hotel on a five-acre (2ha) land.
“(Upon seeing the stilt houses), the investor asked ‘What is this?’ and he looked afraid. The place looked like a refugee settlement and if he built a hotel, his guests would feel nervous when passing the village.”
After Kampung Numbak, we reached Pantai Kibagu. It has a view of the Sepanggar Port. The white beach is beautiful except it is littered with rubbish.
To cut the 75km journey short, I’ll list the places we saw: Sabah’s first tunnel, KKIP (Kota Kinabalu Industrial Park), Sepanggar Port, Sepanggar naval base (where Malaysia’s first submarine is based) and Nexus Resort Karambunai (which has hosted Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and former British prime minister Tony Blair).
From the Karambunai state seat, we headed for the Inanam state seat, where there are the temperate Kokol Hill, which has the best sunrise (Mount Kinabalu in the background) and sunset (Kota Kinabalu city in the foreground) views; Inanam town, which is a bustling suburban centre; and Kadazandusun villages on the hills.
Earlier, at a hipster cafe in Kota Kinabalu city, I had coffee with the businessman and his two friends.
“The Sepanggar seat is the cream of the state,” said one businessman, who lives in Kampung Likas.
“We need to pick an MP who is suited for the seat. Sepanggar has the hardware. Now it needs sophisticated software.”
The seat, he said, needed a leader who can appreciate its potential and come up with a mechanism to integrate and drive the constituency towards becoming a metropolis.
“We don’t need Maggi Mee politics in Sepanggar where when you are hungry, you cook noodle in two minutes and your hunger is sated.
“What Sepanggar needs is foie gras politics where there are proper protocol and policies to realise the full potential of this constituency,” he said.
“Looking at the potential that is available in Sepanggar, the voters might need to consider someone who has access to the government, who can engage in policies and understand the process.”
Meanwhile, an economist adds that: “Despite all its potential, there is a need to solve issues in Sepanggar, such as the underutilised KKIP and Sepanggar Port.
“We need to attract more manufacturing plants in KKIP and turn the port into a transhipment hub.”
Interestingly, the name of Datuk Seri Abdul Rahman Dahlan, who is Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of the EPU (Economic Planning Unit) and a two-term Kota Belud MP, has cropped up as a Barisan Nasional candidate for Sepanggar.
“What do you think if Rahman Dahlan contested Sepanggar?” I asked the group.
“He is a rising star both in state and national politics. He is a suitable candidate because of his exposure, his commitment, his energy and most of all, his strong Sabah roots. Plus he subscribes to new politics of accommodation,” said the businessman who talked about Maggi Mee politics.
Sepanggar has everything.
Now it needs an MP who can turn a rubbish-littered beach into a world-class destination and turn the constituency into an economic driver.