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  • The voters in Sandakan have very different expectations from DAP, now a part of the ruling coalition. Much of the grumbling and frustration will inevitably fall upon its shoulders! Photo courtesy: Bernama

Sin Chew Daily

If you haven't yet set your feet on Sandakan, you may not have much impression of this town.

Those used to the hustle and bustle of KL may find Sandakan too quiet and boring. And if you have witnessed the development of Kuching, you can be excused for thinking that Sandakan is really dated.

If you have visited KK, Sandakan may be a little too boring. The Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center some 20 to 30km away is quiet and most of the visitors are Westerners.

Sandakan friends told me life is not very good there. The economy is stagnant, and development and business opportunities are scarce.

As if that it is not enough, power supply is unpredictable, and outages can happen every a few days.

In addition, the local Chinese residents are also feeling uncomfortable with the massive influx of foreigners, in particular Muslim Filipinos. These migrants have altered the outlook of Sandakan and brought with them a host of social issues.

They also said Sandakan was not like this in the past. In the 1980s, Sandakan was nicknamed “Little Hong Kong” because of its bustling trade and high concentration of Chinese businesspeople. The town's plentiful natural resources, especially timber, had lured businessmen from Peninsular Malaysia as well as Hong Kong and Japan. Night clubs, restaurants, bars and shops were doing brisk business.

Sandakan's prosperity began to thin out following the gradual decline of the timer industry. Today, Sandakan's political and economic status is far outstripped by KK's.

Politics here is very much more complicated than in other cities and towns as a result of its historical background, making the upcoming by-election all the more challenging.

Ethnic Chinese make up almost 49% of the total population, with 44% of Muslim bumiputras, including the Bajaus, Suluks and Malays. Non-Muslim bumis make up the remaining 7%.

Thanks to the relatively large Chinese population there and the general dissatisfaction towards the previous administration, DAP managed to capture the Sandakan parliamentary seat during the last two general elections.

But the voters in Sandakan have their own political views and are not glued to any particular party.

Besides DAP, BN, PBS and independent candidates have all been elected here before, including the incumbent minister in the PM's department in charge of legal affairs Liew Vui Keong (Warisan) who was once elected Sandakan MP on a BN-LDP ticket.

While DAP still has an edge in Sandakan, bear in mind that the party is now a part of the ruling coalition and the voters in Sandakan indeed have very different expectations from them now. Much of the grumbling and frustration will inevitably fall upon the shoulders of the party.

DAP's candidate Vivian Wong is the daughter of the late MP Stephen Wong, and while this relationship may win her some goodwill from the voters, it nevertheless could trigger a backlash against family politics.

Opposition parties in the state have managed to come together to give PBS a headway to challenge DAP one-on-one in a bid to avoid vote dilution.

PBS is an established multicultural party in Sabah, and this will make it better reflect the expectations of Sabahans for stronger indigenous politics.

However, the party fell out of the favor of the local Chinese community after it joined BN in the 1990s. Its influences in the local Muslim society have always been mediocre.

Having withdrawn itself from BN, PBS is now pinning its hopes on the Sandakan by-election to stage a comeback, which is a major test for the party to re-position itself following a shift in the state's political ecosystem.


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