KOTA KINABALU, Sept 14 — It’s only been one day since official campaigning began, but candidates of the Api Api state constituency have already hit the ground running with programmes starting as early as 7.30am on a quiet Sunday morning here.
With the masses thronging the popular Gaya Street Sunday Market, it came as little surprise to see no fewer than five nominated candidates on walkabouts along the 500m stretch where the event is held every week.
Business owners and traders at the market, however, remained indifferent to these walkabouts and told Malay Mail that their main concerns of economic prosperity, access to basic essentials like proper roads, electricity and running water, and job opportunities for the younger generation still persist regardless of which party is in control.
The Gaya Street open-air market has for decades been regarded as the stomping ground for politicians here seeking to gauge the sentiments of urban Kota Kinabalu voters.
The spot is popular with locals and tourists alike for its souvenirs, knick-knacks and delicacies. Local politicians have been known to patronise the market, with some even setting up service centres here every week.
A brief chat with business owners here showed that they, in all fairness, were admittedly satisfied with the level of development in the state’s urban areas.
They, however, still lamented the lack of, or sometimes, complete absence of basic infrastructure mere kilometres outside Sabah’s main townships.
“In the peninsula, you can drive from Johor all the way to Penang and the roads will be lit all the way. But if we go to our remote areas, there is nothing, no street lights at all, and this is unfair to us Sabahans,” handicraft shop owner Madam Chin told Malay Mail.
She said a drive from Kota Kinabalu to Kuala Penyu in the south would sometimes be in pitch-darkness, before pointing out her observation that the solar-powered lamps installed along the route come on during the day instead, defeating their purpose.
For Mr Chin (no relation to Madam Chin), the problem of sub-par roads and other infrastructure is an issue beyond the prerogative of elected representatives, and the result of an unsatisfactory level of effort by the local government’s underperforming machinery.
“It (roads) was never done properly in the first place, so it would not matter who the representatives are. In the first place, why isn’t anyone monitoring the roads? There are people working and getting paid to do such things,” he lamented.
Handmade jewellery stall owner Marian Anchil, 48, pointed out how developments previously promised for the state should have resulted in a thriving tourism industry, but said she has been waiting 15 years for such improvements to happen.
“We want development, we want what they promised to come true, and not just their sweet talk,” she said.
‘Words always sweeter than actions’
When prodded on recent political developments in the state, these business owners were once again less optimistic, claiming they only see the candidates in person during election season.
Marian said Sabahans’ demands for more holistic developments in the state are always “heard” by these candidates, but in the end, nothing ever materialises.
“Their words are always sweeter than their actions,” said Marian, a stall owner of 15 years.
All the traders, when asked about the party hopping that occurred in late August that eventually triggered the elections, plainly said such moves were “stupid” and lacked foresight.
“That is really, really stupid because they are only looking at the short term. And then, they try to become the chief minister. That is very stupid and very shortsighted,” said Madam Chin.
Some labelled those behind the move as opportunists, leaders with a weak moral standing, and easily swayed by promises of power.
“They are not really fighting for the rakyat, they are after their own good only. We cannot trust them when they jump like frogs, and there are too many frogs around,” said Mr Chin.
Look after the young and the aged
For Wong, the elected state government, regardless which side of the political divide they come from, must prioritise and harness the skills and knowledge of the younger generation, whom she said were facing unemployment issues here.
Wong claimed to know of many Universiti Malaysia Sabah graduates who were unable to score proper jobs and were forced to assist their family in markets like Gaya Street to shore up the household income.
“The government must do something about the work and career opportunities of the younger Gen-Y and Gen-Z generations as many of them are not earning enough to even support themselves.
“Take care of the young ones and the young ones will then take care of the older generation,” said Wong.
The mother of two, who has been running her handicraft store for around 10 years, said the lack of proper career opportunities for the younger generation would trigger a vicious cycle of hardship, especially those not under any government pension scheme.
Among those sighted earlier yesterday were Api Api incumbent assemblyman and caretaker Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Christina Liew, and Parti Bersatu Sabah deputy president Datuk Dr Yee Moh Chai, who is among the eight others going up against Liew in a nine-cornered fight.
Others vying for the Api-Api seat include Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) president Datuk Chin Su Phin, Parti Cinta Sabah (PCS) deputy president Datuk Pang Yuk Ming, Parti Gagasan Rakyat Sabah (PGRS) candidate Chong Tze Kiun, Parti Perpaduan Rakyat Sabah (PPRS) deputy president Lo Yau Foh, and three independent candidates Sim Sie Hong, Ng Chun Sua and Marcel Jude.
Candidates vying for seats in neighbouring constituencies were also seen socialising and campaigning in Gaya Street yesterday, including United Sabah National Organisation Daniel Isaac Hoong, DAP’s Tan Lee Fatt, LDP’s Tan Sri Chong Kah Kiat, and MCA’s Dr Chang Kee Ying.
When asked to comment on his campaign so far, DAP’s Tan said there is still work to be done on the ground, where he was out to remind his supporters to tick the box with Parti Warisan Sabah’s (Warisan) logo.
“We (DAP) are going under the Warisan logo, so I have to make sure my voters know which box to tick.
“It has been going good, but there is still a lot of work to be done,” he added.
Sabahans will cast their vote on September 26, in polls that have seen one of the highest number of candidates ever nominated: 447 nominees vying for only 73 state assembly seats.