KOTA KINABALU: Parti Bersatu Sabah’s (PBS) Joniston Bangkuai won the Kiulu seat with a razor-thin margin of 44 votes in the 13th general election (GE13).
Come GE14, however, he is confident of brushing aside a challenge from former beauty queen Jo-Anna Sue Henley Rampas, the vice-chief of Parti Warisan Sabah’s women’s wing.
The 55-year-old former journalist said he had proven himself in serving the constituency and was ready to face the people again.
“We have our track record to show. She has nothing to show. All she’s saying is she can do this and do that. It’s always like that for the opposition.”
He said Warisan president Shafie Apdal had failed to adequately contribute to the constituency during his stint as a federal minister.
“But now that he’s no longer in power, he starts saying: ‘we’ll do this, we’ll do that.’
“Why didn’t he do all that when he was in power?” asked Bangkuai, who was born and raised in Kiulu.
“They will promise the moon and stars because they know that at the end of the day, once they get the power, that’s all that matters.
“But for us, as the incumbent ruling party, we have to be accountable to the people for whatever we pledge because we are in power.”
Bangkuai, the former New Straits Times regional editor for Sabah and Sarawak, is now a full-time politician.
He said he has a sound working relationship with Wilfred Madius Tangau, the MP for Tuaran which covers the area. Tangau is acting president of Barisan Nasional (BN) component Upko and a federal cabinet member.
“We sit down and discuss, and cover as many requests from constituents as possible,” Bangkuai said.
Kiulu, which is slightly smaller than Singapore, consists of 105 villages in the valleys of the Crocker Range, some located on hilly terrain.
“So you can imagine the area that I have to cover. It’s tough and challenging but it’s interesting,” Bangkuai said.
The Sabah Tourism Board chairman added that he was focusing on developing tourism as a source of income for locals.
The government has recognised Kiulu, which is famous for river activities like white-water rafting, as a model for rural tourism.
In the May 2013 general election, Bangkuai garnered 3,745 votes against 3,701 votes obtained by PKR’s Rhodes Panilau.
STAR’s Terence Sinti received 1,025 votes while Sabah Progressive Party’s Tindil Gonsobil and independent candidate John Hussein polled 129 and 517 votes respectively.
About 85% of the 11,424 registered voters in the suburban constituency, about 40km from Kota Kinabalu, comprise non-Muslim Bumiputeras, while Muslim Bumiputeras constitute 13% and Chinese voters account for about 2%.
‘Real problems not addressed by BN’
When contacted, Henley Rampas, who is also a Kiulu native, said the voter demography in Kiulu, which features more people aged between 21 and 45, would help swing the result in her favour.
“To lead this generation, we need someone from the same era. We need someone fresh who sees the current issues and what the young generation really wants,” the 29-year-old told FMT.
She said Bangkuai had succeeded her uncle, Louis Rampas, the previous assemblyman.
Despite her Eurasian descent, the former model and singer speaks fluent Dusun and is familiar with the problems on the ground.
She has been vocal in criticising Bangkuai, claiming that he ignores his constituents and fails to look into issues like road development, falling rubber prices and job opportunities in the area.
She said land issues had also been neglected. “Many villagers told me they had applied for native land titles ages ago but have yet to get them.”
She said it was welcome news for villagers when Bangkuai and government officials held a groundbreaking ceremony for the Tebobon-Gonipis road.
“But there are other roads that are also needed. And we should also address real issues such as these people needing jobs,” she said, adding that the ruling government was responsible for resolving such problems.
“So I hope when Warisan forms the state government, all these issues will be addressed,” she said.