JULAU (Sarawak), Jan 24 — Every time Datuk Joseph Salang (pic)visits the more than 500 longhouses in his Julau parliamentary constituency, he endorses applications from the constituents for all kinds of assistance.
These are requests for aid to cultivate oil palm and rubber, for help to have their houses linked to Sarawak’s main power grid and those directed at the Julau and Pakan district offices and the Welfare Department.
There is keen interest now in oil palm and rubber cultivation, an indication that the people realise they can do a lot of things by themselves for their own benefit.
It gives the 61-year-old Salang personal satisfaction to know that his advice for the constituents to take advantage of income-generating opportunities has not fallen on deaf ears.
After all, as the MP for Julau for three terms, he has endeared himself to the constituents.
Salang is PRS Candidate
The federal deputy minister of information, communications and culture has been nominated by his Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS), a component of the Sarawak Barisan Nasional (BN), to go for his fourth term there in the next general election that is due soon.
Julau is one of the large constituencies in Sarawak, almost as big as the state of Negeri Sembilan in the peninsula, and demographic distribution poses a major concern there in terms of logistics and costs. Julau has the state constituencies of Meluan and Pakan within it.
The parliamentary seat burst into the limelight last year after Wong anak Judat, the state assemblyman for Meluan, branded Salang an “outsider” from nearby Bintangor town who should be shown the exit in the general election.
Wong, who was then in another state BN component – the Sarawak Progressive Democratic Party (SPDP) – declared that he would challenge Salang if the latter defended the seat. Wong has since found a new platform in the brand new opposition Sarawak Worker’s Party (SWP).
Julau looks set to be a crowded arena during the contest in the coming general election because it is unlikely that Wong will be Salang’s only challenger.
PKR likely to challenge Salang
The opposition Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) is also eyeing the seat, and may most probably field a Scotland-trained Chinese accountant as its candidate in the Iban-majority seat, a development said to be bugging the party’s Iban supporters.
Recent press reports indicate that PAS is also interested in the seat although this may be just an election hype.
Of Salang’s potential challengers, Wong is the most active on the ground. He can be regarded as a force based on the strength of his being a three-term assemblyman. His is now a very quiet campaign, minus the pomp and honour that went with it when he was with the government.
He is a regular visitor at funeral wakes. He also tries to endear himself to the simple interior folks by offering to build them roads with his own “lipan” (tractor in Iban).
Many believe Wong made a fatal mistake when he left SPDP in July last year to later join SWP.
People here generally do not support Wong’s personal crusade against Salang and his having deserted the BN. “It is driving the people away from him,” said Desmond Sunok, a contractor.
As for PKR, its candidate is not expected to make much of an impact. However, PKR is relying on Radio Free Sarawak (RFS), which claims to be an independent radio station, and is known to broadcast anti-government propaganda to Sarawakians.
Salang is not cowed, however. “If the radio persists in spreading accusations, lies and instigations and keeps repeating them, there will come a time when the people will be able to tell the truth from the lies. When this happens, it will backfire,” he said.
Najib also visited Julau
The people of Julau remember that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, who is BN chairman, had honoured them with his maiden Gawai Dayak visit here and in Pakan in June last year.
Said Sunok: “Najib cares for the people. He deserves to be given more time to implement his rural transformation programme, his government transformation programme and his wanting to turn the country into a high-income nation.
“Because of him, we in Julau now have more roads, many longhouses are enjoying 24-hour electricity, we enjoy the BR1M (1Malaysia People’s Aid), the 1Malaysia netbook for our children and, even in some of the remotest areas, we are able to communicate on our handphones.”
The consensus here is that the BN will retain Julau with the usual help of the BN component parties, such as the SPDP, Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP) and Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB). After all, Julau is a BN stronghold.
It will be a matter of majority though. The estimated 22,000 voters, about 58 per cent of whom are in Meluan, will provide the answer come polling day.
In the general election in 2008, Salang won with a thumping majority of 7,584 votes, beating his PKR opponent, Dr Labang anak Jamba, who managed 2,767 votes.