KUCHING: Nowadays Marudi Town is abuzz with rumours that Sarawak Parti Keadilan Rakyat is likely to nominate an Iban for the Baram parliamentary seat to challenge the incumbent Jacob Dungau Sagan, who has been named by Sarawak Progressive Democratic Party as the candidate to defend the seat for the Barisan Nasional.
The potential candidate has been identified as Patrick Sibat, a soil scientist, who is currently a supreme council member of Parti Rakyat Sarawak.
He is expected to resign any time from the party, said his supporters.
PKR has also identified another potential candidate Roland Engan, a lawyer.
Sibat’s supporters have been going around ‘selling’ his name among the voters in Marudi who are no stranger to him as he is not only from Marudi, but had one time stood as a candidate representing Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak in the 1983 state election.
He was narrowly beaten by then a Sarawak National Party candidate the late Edward Jeli.
Sibat’s supporters have met with longhouse chiefs and even with supporters of Sylvester Entri, discussing with them the possibility of Sibat contesting in the coming general election.
Entri is the incumbent Marudi assemblyman, who was expelled from SPDP in October last year.
Recently they met with PKR leaders explaining some of the reasons why the party must pick Sibat if PKR wants to win the seat in the coming general election.
One of the main reasons is that the Iban community which forms the biggest group with 10,294 voters have never been given a chance to contest the Baram seat. The majority of them are from the Marudi constituency.
The other ethnic groups which are from the Telang Usan constituency are Kayans numbering 6,365 voters, Kenyahs and Penans accounting for 4,500 and 600 voters respectively.
Two Kayans namely Luhat Wan and Harrison Ngau and a Kenyah in the person of Sagan have represented the constituency for a period of more than 40 years.
The other reason is that the Ibans in Marudi who are strong supporters of Entri are not only angry with SPDP but also have vowed to vote any candidate put up by SPDP in the Baram constituency.
In October last year, more than 30 longhouse chiefs had banned SPDP President William Mawan Ikom from visiting their area as his visit would further create disunity among the people.
Mawan’s visit was only made possible with the intervention of Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.
Mawan had been warned of the consequences of his visit, but he ignored it; one of which was heightening the tensions between SPDP and Entri and his supporters.
Another factor that is favouring Sibat is due to the strong opposition by the Kenyah, Kayan and Penan communities against the construction of the Baram dam now in progress.
From past records, the Kayan and Kenyah communities were split with 55% voted for the Opposition, and 45% for BN. While more than 2,700 Chinese voters voted for the Opposition, the Malays numbering more than 1,600 voted for the BN.
Kenyahs from Sagan’s own longhouse at Long Anap are against the dam as almost all the Kenyah heartland will be flooded by the dam.
Seen from these perspectives, the Iban votes are considered to be the determining factor. This is how Sibat and his supporters see it.
Even if Roland Engan is to be the PKR candidate, he still needs the Iban factor to win. But will the Ibans vote for him, when they are clamouring for an Iban to be the candidate?
“This is a point that PKR should consider,” said Sibat’s former polling agent.
But Baru Bian, Sarawak PKR chief said that the problem with Sibat is that he is still a member of PRS which is a member of the Barisan Nasional coalition.
“We are not sure how serious he is,” Bian was reported to have told Sibat’s supporters.
Sibat was not available to confirm the story as he was away in Miri allegedly meeting his supporters.
The Baram Parliamentary constituency has always been a Barisan Nasional ‘fixed deposit’ since 1970, except for a period from 1990 to 1994 when an environmental activist Harrison Ngau defeated BN-Sarawak National Party Luhat Wan.
But for the coming general election, the political situation in the constituency is very volatile due to the strong opposition of the local people against the construction of the Baram dam that will submerge more than half of the Orang Ulu heartland.
More than 20,000 native people will be displaced and their roots, heritage and culture and their longhouses will disappear.
Recently 150 representatives of the Orang Ulu ethnic groups met in Miri calling on the government to immediately stop the construction of the Baram dam.
This and the native customary rights land-grabbing cases are going to be the main campaign issues in the constituency against the Barisan Nasional.