PBS may gain from protest votes in Sandakan

Local issues came to the fore at the Sandakan by-election when Norbayan Tanong heckled DAP’s Tony Pua on Saturday.

KOTA KINABALU: As the campaign for the Sandakan by-election enters its second and final week, a political analyst here believes PBS may have a slim chance of causing an upset and wresting the seat from DAP.

Rahezzal Shah Abd Karim of UiTM Sabah said protest votes against Pakatan Harapan’s failure to deliver on election promises may be a factor behind the swing.

There has been talk that DAP would win the by-election, but with a reduction in the majority earned by Sabah DAP chief Stephen Wong in the 2018 general election.

Rahezzal cautioned that a PBS victory should not be viewed as some sort of referendum on the government’s overall performance.

“We should be careful with this assertion. The previous Barisan Nasional government won several by-elections before and also the Sarawak state election but still lost the last general election.

“It’s a bit premature to say that a loss for DAP or a victory for PBS in Sandakan would represent the sentiment of all voters in Sabah,” he said.

Wong was re-elected in Sandakan in 2018 with a majority of more than 10,000 – 10 times more than in 2013. He died of a heart attack last month, triggering the by-election.

His youngest daughter, Vivian Wong Shir Yee, 30, has been fielded by the DAP. She is being challenged by Linda Tsen of Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS), former MP of neighbouring Batu Sapi for two terms, who succeeded her late husband who had also represented Batu Sapi for two terms.

Rahezzal said DAP was generally expected to keep the seat, but lower voter turnout could reduce the majority. “Traditionally by-elections always record lower turnout. Whether this will be an advantage for both parties is difficult to assess.”

Local development issues have consistently dogged the district for years as manifested on Saturday when a woman heckled DAP publicity secretary Tony Pua in a DAP campaign event at Taman Harmoni in Sandakan.

Norbayan Tanong, a resident at the people’s housing project complex, said she was merely trying to remind DAP of the party’s promises in the previous election.

“We have been promised that we will be given the chance to buy these homes we are staying at. Is it wrong for me to say they must keep their promises? Besides, we voted for DAP,” she said.

She added that she and her family are burdened by the rising cost of maintaining the home.

Rahezzal said PBS’s affiliation with Umno could hurt the party’s chances.

Several opposition parties have pledged to help PBS, to which Rahezzal said political parties would only forge alliances that they think will suit their needs.

“In the case of Sandakan, it’s still uncertain how Umno will be involved. Will they go out and campaigning for PBS?” Rahezzal said. “That might help them with Bumiputera voters but how about Chinese voters? Will they reject PBS because of their cooperation with Umno?”

Besides Umno, PAS and Parti Solidariti Tanah Airku have pledged to support the PBS campaign.

Three independent candidates are also contesting, namely Hamzah Abdullah, Chia Siew Yung and Sulaiman Abdul Samat. Polling takes place on May 11.