Lobbyists are actively promoting Patrick Sibat, who is expected to resign from PRS.
KUCHING: Marudi town is abuzz with talk that Sarawak PKR is edging close to nominating an Iban to wrest the Baram parliamentary seat from incumbent Jacob Dungau Sagan of Sarawak Progressive Democractic Party (SPDP).
SPDP announced recently that it would let Sagan defend the seat for Barisan Nasional.
The rumoured PKR candidate, soil scientist Patrick Sibat, is currently a supreme council member of Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS), a BN component. Pundits expect him to resign from that party soon.
Sibat’s supporters have been promoting him among voters in Marudi, which is his hometown and the place where he was a Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak (PBDS) candidate in the 1983 state election.
He was narrowly beaten by the late Edward Jeli, who represented Sarawak National Party (SNAP).
Those supporters have met with longhouse chiefs and even with supporters of the current assemblyman for Marudi, Sylvester Entri, who was expelled from SPDP last October.
They have also been lobbying with PKR leaders, telling them Sibat would ensure them victory because the Ibans, who form the biggest group of voters in Baram, would vote him in. In fact, most of the Iban voters in Baram live around the Marudi area.
According to Sibat’s men, the Ibans of Marudi, who are strong supporters of Entri, have vowed to reject any candidate that SPDP would field.
Late last year, more than 30 longhouse chiefs wanted to stop SPDP president William Mawan Ikom from visiting their areas, saying he would only heighten tension between SPDP and Entri’s supporters. But the visits went ahead after Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin intervened.
Another factor favouring Sibat is the strong opposition by the Kenyah, Kayan and Penan communities to the construction of the Baram dam. Of the voters in Baram, 6,365 are Kayan, 4,500 are Kenyah and 600 are Penan.
In past elections, 55% of the Kayans and Kenyahs voted for the opposition.
Kenyahs from Sagan’s own longhouse at Long Anap are against the construction of the dam, which will flood nearly the entire Kenyah heartland.
However, Sarawak PKR chief Baru Bian did not display much enthusiasm for Sibat, according to the latter’s lobbyists. They said Bian was concerned about Sibat still being a member of a BN party. “We are not sure how serious he is,” they quoted him as saying.
A spokesman for Sibat said he was in Miri meeting supporters and could not be reached for comment.
BN’s fixed deposit
BN considers Baram one of its “fixed deposits”. The ruling coalition has held the seat since 1970, with only one four-year break. In the 1990 election, environmental activist Harrison Ngau beat Luhat Wan of SNAP.
Pundits say BN is set to lose the seat in the coming election, principally because of the Baram dam, which will displace more than 20,000 natives and threaten their heritage and culture.
Recently 150 representatives of the various native groups met in Miri and urged the government to halt the construction of the dam.
This will be one of two main campaign issues for the opposition. The other is the many reported cases of NCR (native customary rights) land grabs.