SABAH POLLS | Sabah may be famous for its many tourist destinations and splendour, but Balung and Sebatik in the southeastern part of the state are often left off the list.
However, for this by-election, these two adjacent constituencies near Tawau will be remembered for having their elected representatives defect, which triggered the Sept 26 state election.
These two areas near Tawau are characterised by poverty and neglect. Due to recent political events caused by defections, voters have a new problem on their minds.
Balung voters told Malaysiakini that they were worried that regardless of who wins on Sept 26, there is a chance that their elected representative might defect and this prospect has motivated them not to vote.
"Whoever wins, I will worry. I don't know what to say. That person might jump. What will happen to us? It's disappointing," said lorry driver Duba Ola, 53.
Labourer Hassan Hussin, 47, said an elected lawmaker should be a leader who helps the electorate with their problems.
"Instead, what we hear is they would fly here and there. Aduh... it is difficult for us to choose," he added.
Jobs and water woes
The contest for Balung will be closely watched because it was once a BN stronghold which the coalition narrowly retained by just 174 votes in the 2018 election.
Read more: The who's who is the Sabah 2020 election
This time around, the Balung contest is expected to be a close race between BN and Warisan yet again. Even spectators at a political event in Kampung Blok 31 told Malaysiakini that they were unsure who to vote for yet.
What is certain is that voters are demanding basic infrastructure - street lamps, proper roads and clean water - from the winner.
Throughout the constituency, Balung voters told Malaysiakini they needed better public transport infrastructure and jobs.
Balung only has 14,541 voters. The seat was won by BN's Osman Jamal with 47.08 percent of the vote. He defected to Warisan soon after winning and switched sides again in July, before the Sabah legislative assembly was dissolved.
This time BN is fielding Hamild @ Hamid Awang, while his main opponent is Warisan's Andi Rus Diana Andi Paladjareng, who also contested under the same logo in 2018. There are five other candidates for the seat.
Both Andi and Hamild have stressed heavily on basic infrastructure during their campaign, with Andi claiming that much has been improved by the short-lived Warisan state government.
As for Hamild, he promised that BN could do much more compared to Warisan.
No access to healthcare
Over at Sebatik - a constituency named after an island shared with Indonesia - voters are also complaining about infrastructure woes, particularly the perilous conditions of Jalan Tawau-Kalabakan.
Malaysiakini observed that there were numerous signs of past landslides along that road which was filled with potholes. Some portions allow only one vehicle to pass at a time.
At Kampung Brantian, a popular albeit remote stop for vote canvassers on the Sebatik campaign on the mainland, many residents do not have access to pipe water and rely on collecting rain. During the dry season, residents said they have to use river water, which can be hazardous.
Over on Sebatik island, top on the wishlist for villagers is a health clinic and a police station that focuses on the 27km border with Indonesia.
Japatli Mailaji, 66, said that two years ago, he had to accompany his pregnant daughter to a hospital in Tawau.
It was a harrowing ordeal for him, as they had to deal with dangers such as sea travel and slippery jetties. The only solution, he said, is to build a clinic on the island.
Incumbent: Voters understand why I defected
In 2018, Abd Muis Picho won the Sebatik seat for the third time, by a narrow margin of just 193 votes. Two days later, he joined Warisan and, like Osman, defected again in July. He is currently defending his seat as a Perikatan Nasional-Bersatu candidate.
Abd Muis has promised a clinic for Sebatik island folks, complete with staff quarters. He also promised roads to connect the 17 villages on the island.
He claimed that the money for the clinic had already been allocated by the federal government. All that he was missing now was a mandate from the voters.
Abd Muis told Malaysiakini that he had already explained to his 7,617 electorates why he had to defect in July and that they understood his intentions.
He said that he had to do so to ensure that he could seek funds from the federal government, which had changed hands in March.
Asked if he would switch sides again if there is yet another change in Putrajaya, Abd Muis said that will not happen because of public confidence in Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who is also the Bersatu president.
Like Balung, Sebatik will also witness a seven-cornered contest.
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