KOTA KINABALU, Sept 23 — On paper, Datuk Darell Leiking — former minister of international trade and industry — looks like a shoo-in for the Moyog state seat where he is facing off against six other candidates.
The constituency starts at a point just under 20 minutes away from the state capital, near the iconic Sigah Roundabout in the town of Donggongan, and stretches about 20 kilometres inland to Kampung Moyog.
Candidates vying for the seat must win the hearts of some 19,465 voters who are spread across typical suburban areas as well as more rural ones, separated by hilly two-lane trunk roads.
Conversations with the electorate in both areas showed that younger voters find it easier to relate to Leiking and Parti Warisan Sabah (Warisan).
There are, of course, older voters who like Warisan, but quite a few seem to be open to electing candidates not from the incumbent government.
Moyog is one of two state seats under the Penampang Federal Constituency where Leiking is serving as the elected MP; the majority of voters are of Kadazandusun-murut ethnicity.
Athanasius Martin, 30, told Malay Mail that he would most likely vote for Leiking as he did in the 14th General Elections (GE14), saying he saw the Warisan deputy president as a modern leader.
But Martin, who lives in Kampung Babagon located about 15 minutes from his place of work in Donggongan, said he felt support for Leiking has reduced since 2018, partly due to the sustained popularity of local political outfit Parti Solidarity Tanah Airku (STAR).
“He (Leiking) might still win, but maybe not with a big majority. For me I think it’s between Leiking and the STAR candidate Joseph Suleiman,” he explained.
Fellow Donggongan resident and food stall owner Janet Sinsing, 62, said she too would most likely opt for Leiking to give him a chance to prove himself.
“I would give him a chance, as he has managed to do some good especially for the youth but he was not in power long enough for us to really judge him,” she said, adding that his being the Penampang MP also made more sense to vote him in.
A civil servant who wished to be identified only as Fiona, 37, said apart from Leiking, she was also considering voting for local boy Vinson Loijon from Parti Perpaduan Rakyat Sabah (PPRS) who she said grew up in Kampung Sugud where she lives.
Being a former resident of the village, she said, also made him a viable choice as Loijon would be able to relate to their struggles firsthand.
“And he is a new face, so maybe we could give him a chance,” she said.
Agreeing with Fiona was her uncle James Loijon, no relation to the candidate, who echoed her in saying that fresh faces should be given an opportunity to prove themselves.
He added that other candidates from STAR, Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS), and PPRS were also impressive, making it hard to predict a clear winner.
Is Leiking’s popularity enough to win?
The popularity of Leiking among the folks of Moyog is evident; his eager supporters turn up at his events an hour early to change into Warisan T-shirts handed out by party workers.
Some 50-odd supporters in Kampung Mongkusilad came to hear Leiking speak recently and a Parti Cinta Sabah (PCS) event was less than 500m away. That attracted a similar sized crowd so William Sampil could be said to be as popular.
Kampung Mongkusilad is about a half hour drive from Donggongan. Here, slopes of 45° angles are an everyday hike, with wooden and brick houses built on patches of flatland.
One Mongkusilad resident and food stall owner Aloysius Matinggal, 45, said even though he voted for Leiking during GE14, STAR’s Suleiman could get his vote this time around.
Matinggal explained it was simply due to Suleiman being around for the people more than Leiking did, especially during times of floods or when deaths occur in the village.
“It’s not right when people are shy or apprehensive to meet their MP just because they are not familiar with him (Leiking); what more if he is made the assemblyman,” said Matinggal.
He feels the Opposition should take over as he said there has not been much improvement over the last 26 months under Warisan.
“Warisan is a handsome-looking party, but their leadership does not look too good,” he added.
For fellow Mongkusilad resident Maria Gasitar, 62, it is about leaders who deliver on simple things running water that could prove to be the clincher.
She said she’d probably choose the party with the biggest presence in her area.
“Now I see a lot of Parti Warisan Sabah (Warisan) flags up here, and those with the prime minister and Perikatan Nasional, but I do not know much about any of the candidates, either from Warisan or other parties.
“I can recognise the Warisan logo, so I might choose that one or the one next to the prime minister’s face, but whoever wins I will continue to ask them for my basic needs,” she said as she stood at the door of her wooden and concrete home of 40-over years.
Some even felt that the rights of the natives are in jeopardy if Warisan continues to be in power. Despatch worker Andrian Kanguk, 63, said the rights of his people are slowly being trampled on.
‘They always sideline the orang asal in whatever projects that they do without prioritising us, and they don’t think about us going without jobs when they decide to stall projects,” Kanguk said.
Leiking told Malay Mail he was well aware of the popularity of his opponents. “It’s a bit difficult to say, there are a lot of people with different opinions, but I take things in stride and every day is a challenge to me,” Leiking said when asked about the feedback from the ground.
“My opponents are very popular people as well. They are very strong people and they have got grassroots support, so I must win over their grassroots as well,” he added.
Leiking said he and Warisan will continue to march on until polling day, driving home their message of forging unity among Sabahans.
“When we unite the Sabahans, no one can play us out again; economically, we will be able to do it together, socially we will be able to move on together, and politically we can administer together,” he said.
However, Leiking refused to speculate about his chances, instead saying that his machinery must continue working hard right up to the end.
“We have to make sure that we start right, we have to make sure that we continue and end it right,” he told Malay Mail.
Leiking is gunning for the Moyog seat and is going up against STAR’s Suleiman, PCS’ Sampil, PBS’ John Chryso Masabal, Loijon from PPRS, Marcel Annol from the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), and independent candidate Robert Richard Foo.
Early voting of the Sabah state elections took place today with polling on September 26.