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Sarawak goes to the polls, higher turnout expected


After 10 days of gruelling campaigning, Sarawakians will hit the ballot boxes today in the 10th state legislative assembly elections. There are a total of 213 candidates vying for 71 seats.

Although numerous minor opposition parties and Independents are in the fray, the main combat is between the ruling BN and Pakatan Rakyat.

The campaign saw long-serving Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud, who has been in power for three decades, turning into Pakatan's main target while BN went for its tried-and-tested 'development' card.

Pazlanolitical observers are expecting, barring any widespread vote-rigging, Pakatan to make significant inroads this time round based on the anti-Taib factor alone.

The results of this elections would have far-reaching consequences - it will decide how long Taib will continue his rule, when the general elections will be held and whether Sarawak will see the beginning of a robust two-party system.

Taib Mahmud, who is battling for his seventh term, will lead the BN in the fight for all 71 seats.

Taib's PBB is contesting 35 seats, while BN component party SUPP is gunning 19 the other partners, PRS is going for 9 and SPDP 8.

Meanwhile, PKR is contesting in 49 seats, Snap (26), DAP (15), PCM (6), PAS (5). A total of 41 candidates are contesting as Independents.

There will be straight fights in 27 constituencies, three-cornered fights in 23 constituencies, 17 (four-cornered), two (five-cornered) while two constituencies will face six-cornered fights.

All eyes will be on 28 hot seats identified by Malaysiakini. Pakatan is set on denying BN its two-thirds majority by winning at least 24 seats.

The constituency with the largest number of voters is Pending (29,498 voters) while the least number of voters are in Ba'Kelalan (6,958).

Polling opens at 8am to close at 5.30pm. Unofficial results should begin trickling in at about 6pm. According to the Election Commission, the final results should be in by 8pm.

However, some polling stations in a number of rural constituencies will close as early as 11.30am because of the small number of voters. Unofficial results from these areas will be known much earlier. Helicopters are being for 15 voting centres.


LIVE REPORTS

8am: All polling stations open.

The voters will cast their ballots at 1,748 the polling centres throughout the state which is the size of Peninsular Malaysia and polling would be carried out in stages as there are voters living in the interior.

Schools, longhouses and community halls have been turned into polling centres.

The Election Commission (EC) is expecting a voter turnout of 75%.

8.01am: Betong/Sri Aman - The weather is good in both Betong and Sri Aman divisions, about 120km east of Kuching, where many of the rural Iban-majority are located. Voters begin trickling into polling stations as early as 7.45am, 15 minutes before the official polling starts.

Seats to watch in both areas are Saribas, Lingga and Beting Maro (Malay/Melanau-majority), Layar (Iban-majority held by deputy chief minister Alfred Jabu), Krian, Simanggang, Batang Ai, Engkilili and Balai Ringin (all Iban-majority).

8.08am: Beting Maro - The Saribas River is rather busy with voters arriving and leaving via boats from villages across the river. In Sekolah Kebangsaan Pusa, the PAS tent received a rousing reception when voters flocked to check their voting streams.

Pusa is the biggest town in Beting Maro. The state seat is the only one that PAS is said to have a chance of winning. Over 90 percent of the electorate in the area are from that ethnic group.

8.10am: Sibu - With seven seats up for grabs in the Chinese-majority town of Sibu, this election has seen fierce a battle between SUPP and DAP for supremacy in six of them.

While it is already a foregone conclusion that Nangka will remain under PBB control, PKR is expected to trim their majority there.

But in the other six, SUPP led by assistant minister and Bawang Assan incumbent Wong Soon Koh has to fight off a strong challenge in four seats - Bawang Assan, Dudong, Pelawan and Repok.

DAP appeared buoyed by exceedingly large turnouts in its ceramah in the last few days.

With Bukit Assek incumbent and Sarawak DAP chairperson Wong Ho Leng on the forefront of their campaign, the opposition party is hoping to emerge tonight with an overwhelming victory.

8.15am: Kuching - Drizzle and dark clouds are not keeping voters away with many mostly the elderly already streaming polling centres.

All eyes will be on Chinese-majority seats Pending and Padungan in the city centre, along with suburban seats of Batu Kawah, Batu Lintang and Kota Sentosa, where PKR and DAP candidates have put up a tough fight against SUPP.

In downtown Malay-majority Satok, PBB stalwart Abang Johari Abang Openg is defending his seat against PKR newbie Ahmad Nazib Johari, who is expected to reduce the strongman's winning majority.

8.20am: Saribas - Several PKR campaigners, including Ampang MP Zuraida Kamaruddin, are trying hard to urge voters to enter the polling station SK Datuk Bandar Gebak directly instead of first going to a BN operation center outside to check their voting details.

Some voters, however, insist on going to the BN operation center which provides free mineral water. PKR has not set up a 'pondok panas' at this polling station, which is banned by the Election Commission.

Unlike the carnival-like atmosphere in the peninsula, campaigners here are more subdued - there are no posters, banners or the shouting of slogans.

8.35am: Piasau (Miri) - The weather is good in Miri, the second largest city in Sarawak which is seeing SUPP defending three seats - Piasau, Pujut and Senadin - all located in the town centre.

Party boss Dr George Chan casts a vote for himself at SMK St Columba, one of the polling centres for his Piasau state seat.

"I will vote for Barisan Nasional," he quips before disappearing into the secondary school which is serving as a polling centre.

He also bumped into his opponent, Ling Sie Keong from DAP, who is visiting the polling centre. Ling, however, is not able to cast a vote for himself because he is a voter for Lambir, a state seat on the outskirt of Miri.

After casting his vote, Chan says he will put his trust on the people of Miri. "I has been with them for a long time. It is more important that we continue what we are doing and I am sure that they want us to continue."

Chan, who has held the seat since 1983, is fighting for his political survival in the wake of a strong 'anti-Taib' sentiment sweeping across most Sarawak cities.

Piasau is a Chinese-majority seat with a significant proportion of bumiputera voters (65% Chinese, 19% Malay/Melanau and 13% Iban).

8.45am: Bawang Assan (Sibu) - At the Bawang Assan polling station of SJK Chung Hua, Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng and Bukit Bendera MP Liew Chin Tong together with candidate Alice Lau greet the voters.

"We think can win at this polling station, but we hope that the majority will be high enough," Lim tells Malaysiakini.

However, shortly after that, a female voter in her 40s came out from the polling station, shook Lim and Lau's hands, and said: "Thank you very much, now leave us alone."

Bawang Assan is a Chinese-majority seat, with approximately 65% Chinese, 30% Iban and 5% Malay-Melanau.

8.52am: Satok (Kuching) - A voter shows a slip with her name and IC number printed alongside a BN logo to an Election Commission officer at the gate of SK Merpati Jepang in Satok.

The officer stuffs the slip back into her bag and says, "Don't show this. We only need to see your IC."

8.58am: Saribas (near Kuching) - It starts to drizzle when PKR candidate Abang Zulkifli Abang Engkeh arrives at the SK Datuk Bandar Debak polling station.

Wearing a blue jacket, the politician shakes hands with voters before proceeding to a classroom to cast his vote.

"I'm full of confidence today. If compared with previous elections, this is the most well-prepared campaign by PKR," he tells Malaysiakini after voting.

Abang Zulkifli (right) had contested twice - in the 2004 general election and 2006 state election.

Despite the slight rain, voters continue to stream into the polling station, forming long queues in front of the row of classrooms.

Saribas is a Malay-majority rural seat that was categorised as a'black' area by the BN. It is contested by novice Mohd Razi Sitam (BN-PBB) and Abang Zulkifli (PKR), who is making his second attempt to capture the seat.

Abang Zulkifli was defeated in last state polls by a wafer-thin majority of 94 votes.

9.02am: Satok (Kuching) - PBB vice-president Adenan Satem (left) votes in SK Merpati Jepang in Satok without much fanfare. Despite many PBB hotshots voting at this polling centre, the atmosphere is calm and quiet with no supporters cheering on either side.

Locals say that this is the usual for Satok and much of Sarawak.

PKR candidate Ahmad Nazib Johari is also voting here but at a neighbouring polling centre, but he dropped by for a visit. He is seen shaking hands with Adenan Satem.

9.10am: Pending (Kuching) - The gloomy skies has lifted in Kuching and voters are turning out in force, evident by the slowing down of traffic at every school used as polling centres.

Over at SK St Francis Primary School, BN candidate for Pending Dr Sim Kui Hian voted at 8.15am.

The Pending incumbent Violet Yong will be voting at the Kenyalang People's Centre soon.

Sim, a highly decorated cardiologist, is considered BN's best bet to wrest a seat from opposition-held territory.

He is also considered to have run the most sophisticated campaign among SUPP candidates.

Yong, who is defending her seat, appears upbeat.

“Thank God for the good weather. I've visited several PC (polling centres) and the turnout appears good. Looks like a good sign. I expect a major breakthrough tonight,” she says.

9.15am: Kota Sentosa (Kuching) - In one of the polling centre in Kota Sentosa, many voters are streaming in and checking their registration details with Election Commission officers.

Some of the voters are seen wearing in the '1Malaysia' T-shirts with a big 1Malaysia logo on the back.

The opposition has complained about this since the Galas by-election in Kelantan, arguing that voters are being paid to wear the T-shirt. However, the EC has waved off the protest.

Kota Sentosa is a DAP stronghold in Kuching. However, incumbent Chong Chieng Jen (right) has cried foul over the sudden increase of 1,000 postal votes in his seat. He is facing challenger Alfred Yap from SUPP.

9.25am: Saribas (near Kuching) - The drizzle has been replaced by the bright sun.

Failing to stop the voters from entering the BN operation centre opposite the polling station which provides free drinks, PKR campaigners decide to adopt the same tactic by giving out free drinks to voters.

PKR Ampang MP Zuraida Kamaruddin tells Malaysiakini that BN campaigners are misleading the voters by telling them that the BN operation centre is set up by government and voters should go there to check their voting details first before entering the polling station.

"This is not right. According to election rule, such a 'pondok panas' is prohibited. They (BN campaigners) are asking the voters to do double work."

She has complained to the head of polling centre and the latter said he will take necessary action. However, the BN operation centre is still open.

9.27 am: Bawang Assan (Sibu) - SUPP strongman Wong Soon Koh (centre in blue) arrives at the SJK Chung Hua polling centre with his wife, Pauline Leong, to cast their ballots.

Wong and Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng meet and have a little chat near the school main entrance.

"If you come to Penang, I treat you fried kuey teow," says Lim. Wong smiles and shakes the Penang CM's hand.

9.31am: Satok (Kuching) - PKR Satok candidate Ahmad Nazib (right) seems a bit nervous but is all smiles when met by reporters.

"I can see there is a lot of joy on this polling day. Thirty years is enough of one man's rule," he said.

Another voter Muhammad, 35, said that CM Taib Mahmud was on his mind when he cast his vote.

"It's true that we want change," he said when approached.

9.39am: Beting Maro - PAS is confident of a victory in the seat, says Kelantan Agriculture exco Che Abdullah Mat Nawi.

"Now the voters in Beting Maro can no longer be bought," he tells Malaysiakini at a market next to SK Pusa.

Pusa is the second largest voting district with over 2,600 voters after Beladin.

His confidence seems bolstered by the lacklustre efforts of the PBB campaigners, none of whom are seen around the polling centre. PAS banners dominated the area, unlike elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the local PBB branch chief tells Malaysiakini that for the first time, BN may lose Beting Maro, giving PAS its maiden seat in Sarawak.

"I think that PAS will win big. Everyone wants a change. I can't do much (to reverse it), I have already promised to vote for BN," he says, adding that he is disappointed with choice of the BN candidate in the seat.

9.45am: Miri - BN has set up last-minute billboards all over the town late last night to urge voters to “Retain the Deputy Chief Minister in Miri".

They are referring to DCM Dr George Chan, who is defending his Piasau seat for the eight time.

9.50am: Bawang Assan (Sibu) - Bawang Assan incumbent Wong Soon Koh casts his ballot.

When asked by journalists about his chance, Wong says he is confident in beating his rival, Alice Lau.

The voter turnout rate for the polling centre is good, with the majority elderly people.

Tiong King Sing, 85, who can barely walk and partially blind, insists on casting his ballot.

"I'm fulfilling my duty as a responsible citizen," he says.

Due to his condition, EC officials allowed his nephew, who ferried Tiong to the polling station, to drive into the school compound.

9.54am: Pending (Kuching) - Dr Sim Kui Hian's campaign team appears to be looking for some last-minute sympathy, based on the sudden appearance of tiny posters urging voters to "Save Kui Hian" through out the constituency.

9.55am: Through its official Twitter, PKR urges all its polling agents to protest against voters with green colour identity card as they are permanent residents who don't enjoy voting rights.

10.01am: Satok (Kuching): A man bursts out in anger after he is told that he is at the wrong polling centre. Many have grumbled that they have endured long lines at different polling centres to be sent here, and the opposite is happening to this man.

Another man asks polling agents as he hands over his IC: "There's a chip in the card so why can't you just scan it instead of doing this all manually?"

10.05am: Sibu - As voting goes into full swing, many roads in the small town of Sibu are already choked with traffic on almost all major roads.

But while the polling centre in Bawang Assan is bustling with activity, the one for Dudong in SMK Chung Hua is relatively quiet with only DAP candidate Yap Hoi Liong canvassing votes.

Penang CM Lim Guan Eng soon arrives at the polling centre as well.

When asked of his chances, Yap says, "50-50". "It all depends on the turnout," he tells Malaysiakini.

Here, Yap faces SUPP heavyweight and brother of Rimbunan Hijau tycoon, Tiong Thai King, in a straight fight.

With a sizeable number of Iban voters here and BN's strategic house-to-house campaigning, it will remain to be an uphill battle for DAP for this state seat.

10.02am: Saribas (near Kuching) - A police officer and a EC officer who declined to be named explain that the BN operation centre opposite the polling station in SK Datuk Bandar Debak, which assist voters to check their voting details, is not an offence because it is outside of the 50m radius.

"It is also not a 'pondok panas' because they have their own premise," the Chinese police officer says.

The operation centre is a community hall. It also gives free drink to all voters who check their voting details there.

However, PKR campaigners argue that the operation centre issues paper slips with the BN logo to voters to bring into the polling centre, which they claim is prohibited.

Malaysiakini

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