Campaigning for the ninth Sarawak state election is approaching an end and come Saturday, the people will cast their votes to choose their representatives in the State Legislative Assembly.

What is obvious is that the parties contesting in the election this time, whether the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) or the opposition, have already made their promises, even if they are difficult to deliver.

From the ceramah held by the political parties during the campaigns since nomination day on May 9, the pledges made by BN candidates are reasonable and acceptable compared to those of the opposition.

The contents of speeches by the BN candidates are more focused and consistent, touching on development, unity and continuity of government for the future of the rakyat.

The people will certainly be able to gauge the extent of the BN’s capability in bringing development to Sarawak based on the remarkable progress achieved all this while.

The election this time around will see straight fights in 54 constituencies which will test the credibility and accountability of the candidates concerned.

In the 2001 state election, there were only 22 constituencies where the contests were one against one.

Based on the election record, it is obvious that the opposition will face an uphill battle to topple the Sarawak BN, which now comprises the Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB), Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP), Sarawak Progressive Democratic Party (SPDP) and Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS).

However, the BN’s passage will not be as easy as the ones in the past because it will now face some challengers who were once in the government, namely the candidates from Sarawak National Party (SNAP), in addition to its traditional enemy, the DAP.

The BN also has to contend with candidates from the yet-to-be-registered Malaysian Dayak Congress who are contesting under the SNAP banner. The MDC members were once part of the now defunct Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak (PBDS), which was previously a component party of the BN before its deregistration in 2003 due to a leadership crisis.

Twenty independent candidates are also challenging the BN candidates this time, but the number is far smaller than the 63 who contested in 2001. Among them are Stanley Ajang Batok and Gabriel Adit Demong, who were previously in the BN.

Ajang will defend his Belaga seat while Adit is defending his seat in Ngemah.

Political observers perceive the Belaga seat as a challenging one for the BN based on Ajang’s polularity there. His decision to leave the ruling party to contest as an independent has been accepted by his supporters when he was still in the SPDP.

Adit had left the SPDP because he was against the decision of the party leadership to exclude him from the BN list of candidates.

The duo’s exit from the BN is seen as a protest against the move by the BN to give the two seats to PRS.

The observers also see BN having an uphill battle in Bukit Begunan where its candidate is being challenged by former Sarawak deputy chief minister Datuk Seri Daniel Tajem, who was the president of PBDS when it was deregistered.

The three seats of Bukit Begunan, Ngemah and Belaga are predicted to be difficult for the BN as the trio still wield much influence among the Dayak community there.

The DAP has fielded candidates in 12 constituencies, including Kidurong, the only seat it won in the last state election.

The Meradong seat is seen as one of the toughest in this election with five candidates contesting. Besides two young debutantes, BN’s Wong Zee Yeng, 26, and Ting Tze Fui, 25, of the DAP, three independents have joined the fray.

Political observers are of the opionion that the BN’s real challenge is from Frederick Wong Kung Kuong, who was formerly a SUPP central committee member. Unhappy with BN’s choice of candidate for the seat, he quit the party to stand as an independent.

The BN is also facing problems in Bukit Assek and Pelawan over the issue of toll for use of the RM180-million Batang Rajang Bridge in Hulu Lanang, which was opened by Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud on May 24.

The BN’s Daniel Ngieng faces a strong challenge from Sarawak DAP chairman Wong Ho Leng in Bukit Assek while in Pelawan the BN candidate, Goh Chung Siong is up against Dr Ting Chek Ming of the DAP.

The observers also said that Parti Keadilan Rakyat’s (PKR) hopes of showing its sting in Sarawak would fail miserably although it has fielded candidates in 25 constituencies.

“Transvestites greeting PKR advisor Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim on his arrival at the airport here on Monday is not a good omen for the party in this election,” an observer said.

When speaking to reporters before returning to Kuala Lumpur, Anwar said he was happy to be welcomed by any group although it was aimed at smearing his reputation.

Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, who is also BN deputy chairman, when campaigning in Limbang, said the consensus formula adopted by the BN had proven to the recipe for its success in administering the nation.

Sarawak, which is almost as big as Peninsular Malaysia, has a population of 2.5 million made up of 28 ethnic groups.

The BN won two seats — Dalat and Daro — unopposed on nomination day on May 9.