SANDAKAN, Sabah: As the hustings for the Sandakan by-election approach a climax, both frontrunners have played up their long-standing links to the community and political legacy.
“Ever since young, I've always wanted to serve this community and part of this is due to the influence from my father,” said Ms Vivian Wong, who is campaigning under the Democratic Action Party.
“Since I worked with him, I've learned what a wakil rakyat (people's representative) needs to show and the sacrifices they need to bear,” she told CNA in an interview.
The 30-year-old did her degree in Australia and spent years working abroad. The political greenhorn, however, was thrust into the limelight following the sudden death of her father, Mr Stephen Wong in March.
Mr Wong died from a heart attack, after he collapsed in his car following a hike. He was rushed to hospital but doctors were unable to revive him.
The 64-year-old, who was also Sabah’s Health and People's Wellbeing Minister, won the Sandakan federal seat during Malaysia’s historic general election last May with a majority of over 10,000 votes.
Ms Wong, his youngest child from four children, has stepped up to contest the seat in Saturday’s (May 11) by-election in a bid to continue her father’s legacy.
She worked as a special assistant in the ministry led by her late father. “After his death, his office turned to me for solutions and important things to work on. This made me realise that I needed to continue his work, a big part of which is to focus on the people of Sandakan and Sabah,” she said.
Ms Wong is aware that the spotlight is now on Sandakan. Following the historic election victory a year ago, opinion polls for the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government have dipped.
PH has lost three consecutive by-elections at Rantau, Cameron Highlands and Semenyih, and the pressure is on for her to buck this trend.
“The economy, especially is Sandakan, is not doing very well. There are no job opportunities here and our young children have to go overseas to study, or work in Kuala Lumpur or Kota Kinabalu,” she said.
“A lot of the buildings here are not well-maintained and that our people are facing disruptions to their daily life - our electricity and water supply is not enough. I am here to bear the responsibility to improve things in the next four years.”
PBS CANDIDATE A SEASONED PARLIAMENTARIAN
The other frontrunner in the contest is Parti Bersatu Sabah’s (PBS) Linda Tsen. Unlike Ms Wong, Ms Tsen, 63, has served as a federal parliamentarian for two terms for the Batu Sapi seat, which neighbours Sandakan.
She contested in a by-election for Batu Sapi in 2010, following the death of the incumbent MP, her husband Edmund Chong.
Ms Tsen is backed by Barisan Nasional (BN) and the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) for the upcoming polls.
On Facebook, she highlighted her past record as a “hardworking and dedicated” grassroots leader. Voters needs a “matured and experienced” representative to speak on their behalf in the Parliament, she said.
She cited international experiences to back up her credentials, which included representing Malaysia at United Nations and ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly meetings.
In her first rally of the campaign on Thursday night, PBS President Maximus Ongkili talked up her track record.
“Unlike her opponent, Datuk Linda Tsen is an experienced leader and needs no coaching when it comes to managerial and administration work,” he said.
“She was a two-term member of parliament, and has voiced out the concern of her constituents at previous parliament sittings. Linda is the right voice for Sandakan.”
Earlier, former federal parliament speaker Pandikar Amin Mulia said: “I have heard the late Stephen Wong and also Linda Tsen speaking in Parliament … I think the best voice to represent the people of Sandakan is the former MP Linda Tsen because she has experience.”
“Linda is cool, calm and she delivers her speeches in an organised way. She lost her seat in the last general election not because of her personally, it was a defeat across the board (for BN).”
On her part, Ms Tsen said during Thursday’s rally that she has heard citizens’ concerns over cost of living and employment.
“The economy is struggling, and the business opportunities here have also slowed. The rental costs for shops have also increased. Customers are also not happy with the Sales and Services Tax (that the PH government) reintroduced to replace the Goods and Services Tax,” said Ms Tsen.
“Come join me and PBS to defend our rights in this by-election,” she said.
Ms Tsen and Ms Wong are frontrunners, but they will also be contesting against three other independent candidates in the polls on Saturday - former Sabah Parti Amanah Negara chairman Hamzah Abdullah, 65, businessman Chia Siew Yung, 45, and former political worker Sulaiman Abdul Samat, 36.
The Sandakan parliamentary constituency, which has two state constituencies Tanjong Papat and Elopura, has close to 40,000 eligible voters.