It’s not often and indeed it is a rarity for a political party’s event at a by-election campaign to get ‘hijacked’. Or rather, the political party allowed its event to be taken over by its rivals due to the no-show of its lead campaigners.
This is exactly what happened yesterday in one of the 21 Iban resettlement longhouses Rumah Jenggi near the Batang Ai hydro-electric dam, one of the issues in the by-election.
PBB senior vice-president Awang Tengah Ali Hasan and his team of party supporters were expected to arrive at the longhouse at 2.30pm.
A crowd of about 50 comprising village elders, women and children, as well as a large media group were waiting for the minister’s arrival.
Earlier, the PKR state assemblyperson for Ngemah, Gabriel Adit, accompanied by several of his party supporters, arrived at the longhouse, known to be pro-opposition, to campaign for PKR candidate Jawah Gerang who is involved in a straight fight with BN’s Malcolm Mussen Lamoh.
The crowd waited in vain as it was soon made known that Awang Tengah, a senior state minister, was not coming.
Adit then casually took over the event and addressed the longhouse residents on a range of issues, foremost of which was the unsettled long-standing claims for compensation due to the construction of the hydro dam in the 1980s.
Awang Tengah had been expected to make an announcement on the matter to appease the villagers.
The 21 resettlement villages has a sizeable electorate of about 2,000, or 20 percent, of the total number of registered voters in Batang Ai. Although situated at the doorsteps of the hydro dam, they are without electricity.
This is one of the major grievances of some of the Iban community in Batang Ai.
Johnicol Rayong challenged by Jawah
Adit told Malaysiakini he believes that the longhouse people understood the PKR’s message for change, calling for the state BN government to be replaced by Pakatan Rakyat like in several states in the peninsula.
Meanwhile, it was reported that the pro-BN Independent assemblyperson for the neighbouring Engkilili state constituency Johnicol Rayong was so embarrassed after he was challenged by Jawah that he left the scene in a hurry.
Johnicol was addressing another longhouse within the resettlement area two days ago.
Jawah, the five-term MP for Lubok Antu, had arrived in the same longhouse and demanded to know whether Johnicol had joined BN.
The independent representative told him and the crowd that he had not.
Jawah then replied ‘Why are you then campaigning for the BN?’ On hearing that, Johnical left the scene and Jawah lost little time to take over the mike and address the people.
The longhouse is also a known supporter of PKR.
Meanwhile, Daniel Tajem, a former deputy chief minister and ex-president of the now defunct PBDS, also joined the campaigning for PKR, visiting several longhouses near Lubok Antu to urge them to back the PKR candidate.
Polling day for the by-election is April 7.