BEAUFORT: After two weeks of campaigning, political observers say the results of the Kimanis parliamentary by-election tomorrow could go either way.
Warisan’s Karim Bujang, the five-term Bongawan assemblyman from 1990 to 2013, will vie to become the new Kimanis MP against BN’s Mohamad Alamin, who was himself a one-term Bongawan rep (2013-2018).
Karim was dropped by Umno in 2013 to be replaced by Mohamad, who eventually lost to Warisan’s Daud Yusof in the 14th general election (GE14).
Both parties made last-minute attempts to win over the Kimanis people’s hearts and minds today.
However, Warisan seemed more relaxed with Warisan president Mohd Shafie Apdal making a sole appearance at a kenduri doa selamat (thanksgiving prayers) at Kampung Pimping here.
Comparatively, BN, which had paraded its heavyweight politicians from Sabah and the peninsula since day one of the campaigning on Jan 4, fielded former premier Najib Razak in four ceramahs today.
Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, meanwhile, went to Binsulok, a Brunei-Malay-predominant area. Mohamad is also scheduled to visit all the 19 polling district centres (PDMs) in Kimanis tonight.
Political analyst Asri Salleh said Warisan appeared to have a slight advantage over BN going into the polls tomorrow but there is every possibility of BN staging a surprise.
He said the perception of the advantage was mostly from the size of the crowds that turned up at Warisan’s programmes.
“Kimanis has more than 29,000 voters. It means there are thousands more we don’t see attending these gatherings. That’s how such perceptions can be skewed.
“By now, all voters would have made up their minds on who they should vote for. They will only turn up on voting day and this is where the ‘swing’ could happen,” he told FMT.
Asri added that sympathy and affection for BN, silent protests against the controversial Sabah Temporary Pass (PSS), and broken promises by both Warisan and PH could spell a win for the once-dominant ruling coalition.
Kimanis is traditionally a BN stronghold, with the former MP, Anifah Aman, holding the seat for three terms since 2004.
Membakut, the other state constituency under Kimanis, was won by Ariffin Arif, formerly of Umno, in GE14. He was part of the mass exodus of senior Sabah Umno leaders in December 2018. They joined PPBM between March and April last year.
Padi farmer Jinori Mikil, 57, from Kampung Tahak in Membakut here, said he is more inclined to support BN.
He said much of the assistance he used to receive from the previous BN government stopped after the new administration took over the state following GE14.
“Although we are hearing BN has a good chance of winning, it is hard to tell honestly. I still rate it as 50-50,” he said.
In truth, Warisan made a late start in campaigning, with the party only making a major effort three days after nomination day.
Shafie has been going to almost every ceramah to campaign for Warisan and Karim.
State and national PH leaders, such as PKR president Anwar Ibrahim, his deputy Mohamed Azmin Ali, PKR advisory council chairman Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail and PPBM president Muhyiddin Yassin have all chipped in to help Warisan’s cause.
“But the face of Warisan’s campaign is definitely Shafie,” said a villager from Bongawan.
“Shafie has exerted much effort going into the villages and polling districts in both constituencies, trying to win over the voters.
“Together with Warisan vice-president Peter Anthony (who is also the KDM Malaysia president), Shafie is also making strides in the Kadazandusun Murut areas (KDM), where the PSS is a hot issue,” he said.
Shafie has been on a roll, speaking against letting BN back in Sabah after GE14 with his “Enough is Enough” tagline.
At the same time, the PSS has been a point of contention for Warisan as it finds itself fending off fears attached to the Sabah migrant pass plan.
It has been assuring the public that the pass will not pave the way to granting citizenship to illegal immigrants.
BN leaders and other opposition parties, such as PBS, STAR and SAPP, have been playing up the issue, which is particularly sensitive among the KDM people.
Asri said the PSS is less likely to affect the votes of the Brunei Malays, unlike the KDM.
“The KDMs could very well be the kingmakers should they go down in droves to vote against the PSS.”
A majority of the voters in Kimanis are Muslim Bumiputeras, accounting for about 20,000 of the 29,664 electorate. They are mostly Brunei-Malay voters, with some from the Bisaya and Bajau communities.
There are about 8,000 KDM voters and 1,000 Chinese.
Why is it hard to read who will win the by-election?
Asri said it was hard to see an outright winner in the Kimanis polls as Warisan and BN both had their weaknesses and strengths.
“Warisan, as the ruling party, enjoys access to resources which Umno, as the opposition, does not.
“This means Warisan can do a lot more, especially in terms of development. This makes them more appealing to voters than Umno.
“But, on the other hand, Umno enjoys strong grassroots support as people remain loyal to it till this day. How big the support is another question,” he said.
Litmus test for both rival parties
Another analyst, Arnold Puyok said the Kimanis polls is “arguably the by-election of all the by-elections since GE14”.
“It is a litmus test for both Warisan and Umno. Warisan’s performance in the by-election is a reflection of its popularity. The by-election will gauge the people’s feelings and support for the PH-Warisan-Upko government.
“If Warisan wins, it will give Shafie a major boost to lead Sabah until GE15. If Shafie can end BN’s winning streak, he will have the leverage to strengthen Warisan’s control over local politics,” he said.
Puyok said Umno also needs to win this by-election as a victory will open the possibility for the party to re-emerge as a strong alternative to the current Sabah ruling coalition.
“Sabah Umno particularly has to prove that it is still a relevant party in Sabah. The Kimanis by-election is a golden opportunity for Umno to discard the perception that it is a party stuck in a time warp,” he said.
When contacted, Sabah Umno chief Bung Moktar Radin said they are confident their hard work will pay off tomorrow.
“We have tried our best. We are confident we will win. We’re not sure of the majority but we can win back the seat,” he said.
The Kinabatangan MP is also convinced the people have started accepting that Sabah Umno has obtained full autonomy from the parent party in Kuala Lumpur.
“Yes, of course (people have accepted). And Warisan is talking about ‘Sabah Era Baru’ (Sabah’s new era). What era baru? They haven’t done anything.
“If you want to eventually change the government, you have to start from this by-election,” Bung said.
In essence, Puyok said, whatever the outcome of the by-election, the state government will still remain under the PH-Warisan-Upko coalition.
“But the Kimanis by-election is enough to measure the feelings of the electorate towards the performance of the government of the day and its elected leaders,” he said.