KUCHING: It may be the most crowded field ever for Sarawak but the upcoming state election will see fierce contests in only a handful of seats – where the Chinese majority are.
A record number of 349 hopefuls are running for 82 seats.
The reason behind the huge number is attributed to the entry of nine Opposition parties that are fielding 267 hopefuls. In 2016, a total of 226, the most until now, contested in the state polls.
This time around, 78 seats are expecting multi-cornered fights.
Only four – Pantai Damai, Layar, Dalat and Tamin – will see straight fights.
For once, Pakatan Harapan is not contesting in all 82 seats. It is fielding only 62 candidates, comprising 28 from PKR, 26 from DAP and eight seats taken on by Amanah.
The presence of the local Opposition parties means that every seat is being contested.
Among them is Parti Bumi Kenyalang that is fielding 73 candidates, the most behind the ruling Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) coalition.
Parti Sarawak Bersatu (PSB) is close behind with 70 hopefuls.
Three other local Opposition parties are also in the field.
They are Sarawak People's Aspiration Party (Aspirasi) with 15 candidates, Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak Baru with 11 and the little-known Parti Sedar Rakyat Sarawak, which is contesting in five seats.
PAS is contesting one seat in Beting Maro.
Top political leaders from GPS and the Opposition are involved in the multi-way fights.
GPS chairman Tan Sri Abang Johari Tun Openg, Sarawak United People's Party (SUPP) president Datuk Seri Dr Sim Kui Hian and Sarawak DAP chairman Chong Chieng Jen are in four-cornered fights. Incidentally, SUPP is a component party of the GPS.
Despite facing multiple opponents, GPS isn't expecting strong challenges. And it has the advantage of machinery.
University of Tasmania Asian Studies Prof James Chin said the most competitive seats would be in the Chinese-majority areas.
Many Chinese in Sarawak feel that DAP has lost its appeal with them, he said.
"The GPS' mantra of Sarawak First is gaining popularity with the Chinese," Prof Chin added.
Of the 82 seats, only 16 are in Chinese-majority areas.
The ones to watch for are Batu Kawah and Padungan in Kuching, and Bawang Assan and Dudong in Sibu.
Prof Sivamurugan Pandian of Universiti Sains Malaysia said while many parties were in the running, those with a strong machinery held an advantage.
"In this case, GPS would be the one with the most effective machinery to manoeuvre support," he pointed out.
"Those that don't are at least giving the stronger parties a fight."
GPS election director Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah said the coalition would not take its opponents lightly.
"We must never be overconfident," he said. "Or we will regret it."
Uggah said that the ultimate aim of the GPS is to form the government again.
According to the Election Commission, GPS is fielding 82 candidates, Parti Bumi Kenyalang (73), Parti Sarawak Bersatu (70), PKR (28), DAP (26), Sarawak People's Aspiration Party (15), Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak Baru (11), Amanah (eight), Parti Sedar Rakyat (five) and PAS (one).
There are 30 Independents.
Among the contestants are 45 women.
Thirteen seats are seeing three-cornered fights, 33 in four-cornered tussles and 24 are five-cornered.
There are also six-way challenges in seven seats and one eight-cornered fight in Dudong.
Two nomination papers – filed in Jemoreng and Senadin – were rejected yesterday.
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