Is Julau prepared to trade old lamp for a new one?

Sng (left) out to topple 'old lamp' Salang.
Sng (left) out to topple 'old lamp' Salang.

JULAU: Would you trade an old lamp for a new one and then suffer the consequence of having your material comfort taken away from you?

The tussle for the Julau parliamentary seat has a bit of such the drama. Independent Larry Sng Wei Shien, 39, fits the bill of the magician who wants to replace BN four-term incumbent Datuk Joseph Salang, 68. His poster has the slogan ‘Tukar Orang Lama. Undi Orang Yang Baru’ (Change the Old for the New) boldly printed in red.

The Julau seat, the size of Melaka and Perlis states put together with 24,936 registered voters, is one of the six seats of Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) and one of the nine Dayak majority seats in Sarawak. It comprises the state seat of Meluan and Pakan, both under BN.

The Arabian folklore aside, Larry will have to work harder than the magician in disposing of Salang who is PRS secretary general, president of the Dayak Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI) and chairman of the 1Malaysia Sarawak Advisory Council.

Sng, a former Pelagus state assemblyman and a former state assistant minister in the then chief minister Datuk Patinggi (now Tun) Abdul Taib Mahmud's administration is being demonised as a ‘kampar’ (outsider) and even worse an arrogant Chinese set to conquer an Iban majority seat.

Even Salang has to deal with the ‘kampar’ issue in defending his seat since winning it for his first term in 1999. But unlike Larry, Salang has his roots and and his share of the Native Customary Right (NCR) lands in Bayong, Sarikei which is part of the constituency.

Larry's father Datuk Sng Chee Hua was Julau one-term MP before Salang replaced him as its elected representative.

"If we let Larry win, his win will effectively snuff out potential local leaders from leading in the next 15 to 20 years. We have after all many qualified Iban professionals (including PhD holders) from among the locals," Salang often reiterated in his campaign rounds.

"I am a Chinese and Larry should go for the many Chinese majority seats like Sibu, Lanang or Sarikei if he really wants to serve. So my message is reject Larry," Meradong BN/SUPP state assemblyman Datuk Ding Kuong Hiing said when campaigning for Salang here.

Larry's partyless platform may be his albatross in this traditional BN stronghold.

"In spite of this we should not let our guards down for the senior Sng, is a veteran politician. He may still have a trick or two up his sleeve," said Salang.

There is the so-called ‘Sng's IC Project’ launched recently where workers have and are collecting and photocopying voter's identity cards to come up with a sort of membership to indicate they support Larry's bid.

It is alleged that voters were promised a certain sum before voting and are paid the balance if Larry wins.

PRS president Tan Sri Dr James Jemut Masing told Bernama that if indeed the allegation was true, it was not right and folks should pass the word to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC).

Meanwhile Meluan Progressive and Democratic Party (PDP) branch chairman Belayong Jampong said Salang has done much, including promoting Dayak students’ academic excellence by giving annual incentives and other financial assistance to top performers and undergraduates every year since becoming the Julau MP.

"He (Salang) is doing this out of his own pocket," he said in response to Larry's campaigning promises that he would extend his Larry Sng Education Fund here.

“One of Salang's most valuable contributions here is his insistence on the people to be involved in pepper, vegetable, oil palm or rubber cultivation to generate a stable income.

“His approach is to teach people how to fish instead of giving them a fish a day to eat to live," said Belayong, adding that in walking the talk, Salang is one of the owners of the state’s biggest individual pepper garden along KJD Road, off the state trunk road near Sarikei.

But perhaps his main appeal is the fact that he is widely seen as PRS full federal minister material given his party position. He has been a deputy minister in various portfolios as well. On this, Masing said the decision is in the Julau voters’ hand. A very impressive majority would mean they wanted Salang for the post, he said.

Come May 9, the voters will have to decide whether they want an old lamp which can bring magical development and progress or the non-magical new lamp as in the ‘Aladdin and the Genie Lamp’ tale.- Bernama