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KUCHING, Jan 14, 2016:

The battle for seats in the next Sarawak state election is expected to be especially intense in the central region of Sibu, Mukah, Sarikei and Kapit.

Twenty-five of the 82 seats up for grabs are in the region.

Five of them are certain to be in the spotlight as the incumbents are party presidents and a DAP Sarawak vice-chairman.

Sibu itself has eight seats of which three — Bukit Assek, Pelawan and Dudong — are held by DAP, which has nominated one of its state vice-chairmen, David Wong Kee Woan, to defend his Pelawan constituency.

The Mukah Division has seven seats, all under Barisan Nasional.

BN holds five of the six seats in Kapit, with the opposition Sarawak Worker’s Party winning the other one, Pelagus, in the last polls.

The four seats in Sarikei are evenly split between BN and DAP.

DAP, which has 12 of the 71 seats in the present state assembly, has set an ambitious target for itself.

PKR has three seats while one is held by an Independent.

Undaunted by the immense popularity of Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem, DAP has said that it will contest in more than 30 constituencies, venturing for the first time into Bumiputera areas which are traditionally BN strongholds.

While it wants very much to capture Bawang Assan in Sibu, it is also “seriously eyeing” Bumiputera seats like Machan, Ngemah, Katibas, Pakan, Pelagus, Murum and Belaga in the central region, according to sources.

The sources said the party has identified potential Dayak candidates, comprising lawyers, former civil servants, businessmen and a former university lecturer.

Voters in the rural constituencies have in the past been staunch supporters of BN, and DAP will have to go beyond deriding the GST, the alleged high level corruption and the rising cost of living to derail the ruling coalition there.

DAP may not have it all its way in the fielding of candidates. Its partner, PKR, wants to contest many of the same seats.

Talks have been held to avoid a clash between DAP and PKR in any of the constituencies, but no final decision has been reached on seat allocation.

BN is expected to field a mix of veterans and new faces.

Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) president Tan Sri Dr James Masing is expected to defend the Iban majority rural seat Baleh in Kapit again.

Masing, who is State Land Development Minister, is expected to retain the seat handily, especially since he has been more vocal of late in voicing issues affecting the Dayak.

SWP president Larry Sng Wei Shien is expected to contest the Pelagus seat, which he had won twice, in 2001 and 2006, as a BN representative.

Although not an assemblyman now, he is believed to maintain a lot of support in Pelagus, the only seat SWP won in 2011.

Sng, who was sacked from PRS, is said to be also interested in the new Bukit Goram seat — if Adenan does not assign it to a candidate from the Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB), the backbone of the state BN which the Chief Minister heads.

There is a lot of speculation on whether the presidents of the two new BN-friendly parties will be fielded to defend their seats.

The two are the United People’s Party (UPP), led by State Minister of Local Government and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Wong Soon Koh, and Parti Tenaga Rakyat (Teras) led by State Minister of Social Development Tan Sri William Mawan.

Wong has represented the Bawang Assan seat for five terms. The constituency has over 16,743 registered voters, of whom over 10,000 are Chinese and 5,834 Ibans.

UPP is a spinoff of the Sarawak United People’s Party, and SUPP thus maintains that Bawang Assan is its constituency.

Mawan is hoping to defend his Pakan seat which he has held for five terms.

“It is Pakan for me if I am given the choice. Otherwise, I will go fishing or golfing,” he has said.

Teras is a breakaway from the Sarawak Progressive Democratic Party, and SPDP wants Pakan for its own candidate.

Both UPP and Teras have yet to be admitted into BN, and SPDP, SUPP and PRS do not want them in the fold.

But the BN leadership itself may want the two paties to be in the coalition, or at least still friendly to it.

Besides Wong, UPP has three state assemblymen who are from the Dayak community and still influential in their respective constituencies.

Apart from Mawan, Teras has four members in the state assembly, three of whom are assistant ministers.

As the 11th state election draws close — with many predicting that it will be held in March —people are waiting to see what Adenan decides on the position of UPP and Teras.

What is known is that the Chief Minister wants not just a win but a landslide, and is likely to seize any advantage to get it.

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