Fence sitters – the last frontier


  • Letters
  • Friday, 17 Jan 2020

As voters prepare to vote in the P176 Kimanis by-election, the key question of who will win, will be known officially Saturday (Jan 17) when the Election Commission announces the winner, likely around 10pm, or earlier barring hiccups.

Insap and its ground team have had their fingers on the pulse for this by-election. We also managed to run an extensive face-to-face survey from Jan 3 to 15 covering 609 respondents. To put things into perspective, Insap performed a baseline sampling from the day of nomination, and subsequently spread the survey over two weeks of campaigning to capture the shifts in voting trends.

Our ground observations were:

Parti Warisan Sabah was slow off the mark and in fact, many of its coordinating centres at the local polling centres (PDM) were not up and running until end of the first week into campaign. Its command structure was centralised and directed from the Chief Minister's Office and in comparison, Barisan Nasional's command structure was decentralised.

Despite facing defection of its members to Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia post-GE14, Umno managed to retain and remain steadfast with its superb machinery and had ceramah (campaign talks) from the word go. Barisan rolled out its big guns from day one, with Datuk Seri Zahid Hamidi, the Barisan chairman, leading the charge. In fact, Barisan made good headway with Zahid officiating the Kenduri Rakyat at Kampung Pimping, Membakut the night before the nomination day.

It was here that Umno's Muafakat Nasional (pact with PAS) was paraded and Zahid shared the stage with PAS president Datuk Seri Hadi Awang who declared PAS' undivided support to the Umno candidate, Datuk Mohamad Alamin, 47, better known as "Tok Moh" among locals. This immediately became political capital for Warisan as Sabahans, in general, were adverse to PAS because of its stand of making Malaysia an Islamic State. Warisan's partner, Upko, immediately jumped on this and use this as its key campaign message,"A vote for Barisan = vote for PAS".

Yes, surprisingly the Sabah-based Warisan/Upko's psychological war was aimed at pitting and splitting the non-Islam Bumiputera (BBI) and Chinese voters, veering precariously towards the 3Rs (race, religion and racism) instead of its usual regional "Sabah for Sabahans" mantra.

Unfortunately for Sabah Barisan, which now comprises only Umno and MCA, as all other Sabah Barisan coalition partners had quit after GE14, it had no partner to counter the aggressive Upko engagement of the BBI voters, which make up about 28.9% of total voters. Barisan did not engage with BBI areas until nearly the end of the first week of campaigning when reinforcements came in the form of KDM stalwarts, Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) and STAR Sabah, forming a formidable opposition frontline. By that time, Insap survey showed that BBI voters had largely swung to Warisan.

Insap survey indicated that there are four issues topping the concerns of the Kimanis voters which includes economic development, job opportunities (both 33% each), as well as issues related to Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63) (17%) and of course the issue of the Temporary Sabah Pass (PSS) which team Barisan is capitalising on.

It is understandable why Kimanis voters wished for economic development and jobs. In the Insap interviews, shop owners lamented that business had worsened significantly since Warisan was installed as the State government and that the by-election was a god-send for businesses. Youths here, with the average education level of SPM (pre-college), lamented on the lack of job opportunities as well as low pay, stressing that shop assistants were not even paid minimum wage, and some shopkeepers were not even hiring because business were minimal.

Kimanis is largely rural despite the multi-billion investment from Petronas and past Barisan state government. Within the constituency are Petronas' RM3.8bil Sabah Oil & Gas Terminal (SOGT), RM1.5bil Kimanis Power Plant (KPP), and RM30.5mil permanent campus of Kimanis Petroleum Training Centre (KTC) for youth. Under the Barisan State government's Halatuju Sabah Policy, Kimanis was made the Sabah Agricultural Industrial Precinct (SAIP) with 185 acres earmarked as an agro-biotechnology centre of excellence to produce higher value-added food and specialty products based on botanicals, aquatic plants and animals.

Despite the push for industrialisation, little has changed for the people who are mostly farmers, rubber and palm oil smallholders and fishermen. These voters now lamented on their poor harvests following the Pakatan Harapan government's rollback of subsidies, while palm oil smallholders faced cash crunch because of the low price of FFB (fresh fruit brunches) with some getting under RM200 per tonne. Consequently, many were unable to repay their agricultural loans taken to replant trees and many have stopped using fertiliser and weed killers because they cannot afford it.

Warisan did not answer this issue largely because global palm oil prices are depressed while Barisan did not attack this issue frequently enough in ceramah although Opposition leader Ismail Sabri highlighted that Pakatan Harapan's solution to higher price for palm oil was for every Malaysians to drink two table-spoons full of oil a day.

Both Warisan and Barisan had accused each other of unethical campaigning – Warisan noted the spreading of "untruths" about PSS especially for Barisan's key message that "A Vote for Warisan = A Vote for PTI" while Barisan complained of the use of government facilities in campaigning, organising of Christmas & New Year Celebrations with food, drinks, and lucky draws, reports of discrete distribution of grass cutters, chain saws and farming equipment to the Kadazandusun and Muruts, and latest reports of RM300 cash token being given for outstation voters to return to vote.

Shafie Apdal's history with MACC before GE14 over corruption charges during his term as the Federal rural development minister; as well as Peter Anthony's Sabah Water Department scandal, and candidate Karim Bujang's old inquiry into his mansion and the purchase of a multi-million ringgit resort in Kimanis during his five-term as state assemblyman also surfaced as part Barisan's strategy.

Insap survey found that neither the Warisan nor Barisan candidate could match the approval rating from Kimanis voters for outgoing MP, Datuk Seri Anifah Aman who scored 49% for his performance as MP, while 43% thinks Tok Moh will make a good MP compared with Karim who scored 41%. On that note, Anifah's good graces within the hearts of Kimanis voters managed to give Barisan its lead with him at the forefront of the Barisan campaign trail.

Kimanis voters favoured Barisan for doing a better job in governing Sabah (Barisan 50% vs Pakatan/Warisan 36%) and, for meeting voters' needs in Kimanis (Barisan 47% vs Warisan/Pakatan 40%), with 42.3% favouring Barisan to win the by-election compared with 41.6% for Warisan. However, given a 5% margin of error, this means that the P176 Kimanis could tilt either way, especially given that there are approximately 2,500 voters who are still undecided. But they will decide today and Warisan as well as Barisan await with baited breath.

It seems that Warisan president Shafie understands the high stakes involved and has no choice but to take charge of the election campaign himself, going personally to the ground almost daily flanked by his deputies, Datuk Junz Wong and Datuk Peter Anthony. The sitting Chief Minister may have realised that Warisan may not fare well on local and state issues and has therefore hoped that his "up close and personal" touch may tip the scales in their favour. Surprisingly, the usual Warisan allies from Pakatan Harapan, the likes of Christina Liew, and even Warisan deputy president Darell Leiking, were rarely seen in the last days of campaign.

Barisan made P176 Kimanis a referendum on PSS. If Warisan wins, it shows that the #AntiPSS campaign has been a total failure.

With regards to PSS, Insap's survey indicated that only 33% agree that PSS facilitates the citizenship application of undocumented migrants and at the same time 40% disagree that PSS will solve the problem of undocumented migrants (PTI).

In a nutshell, this by-election is quite honestly, too close to call. Insap survey shows:

Among Muslim Bumiputera (BI), support rate for Barisan was 43.4% while Warisan support was 39.4%. There are 17.2% who are still fence sitters. Among the BIs, Brunei Malays are the largest cohort at 43%, followed by 7% Bajau Suluk, and 16% others including the Bisaya.

Among Non-Muslim Bumiputeras (BBI), support rate for Barisan was 42% while Warisan support was 44.4%. There are 13.7% who are still fence sitters. Among BBIs, the Kadazandusun-Muruts (KDMs) are the largest cohorts at 29% of total Kimanis voters.

Quantitatively speaking, Barisan's support rate among the BI and BBI indicates that the outcome favours Tok Moh more than Warisan's Karim Bujang with about 16% still not having made up their minds. But how does one quantify what's in the minds of the 2,500 fence sitters who will decide?

Dr Pamela Yong is the deputy chairman of the Institute of Strategic Analysis and Policy Research (Insap)

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Insap , Kimanis by-election

   

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