The Batang Ai by-election will be a straight fight between Barisan Nasional (BN) and Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) after all.
And if the sea of people who flooded this rural town yesterday was any indication of what the days until polling on April 7 will be like, it will be the mother of all by-elections in the state.
PKR’s Jawah Gerang was the first to submit his papers at the nomination centre at the Lubok Antu Sports Complex at 9.03am.
He was proposed by Unggeh Babong and seconded by Lepang Grang.BN’s Malcolm Mussen Lamoh arrived 12 minutes later.
He was proposed by Grang Jubin and seconded by Jampi Tutong.
The expected third man in the race, blogger Johnny Chuat, actually entered the nomination centre at about 9.07am, but he would later withdraw for reasons that would be a source of speculation for a long time.
Returning officer Nelson Mujah Girie closed the nomination time at 10am to allow for a protest period from 10am to 11am.
A protest was made against Mussen, questioning the validity of his resignation as a senior government officer.
However, Mujah decided that there were no grounds to reject Mussen’s nomination, thus allowing the one-on-one contest between Mussen and Jawah.
Outside, thousands of people awaited Mujah’s announcement which officially kicked off the race.
After Mujah performed his task at 11.15am, the complex erupted into a loud chorus of cheers and boos.
Some estimates say there were more than 15,000 people in Lubok Antu yesterday. They came from throughout the state and from almost every political party.
BN supporters appeared to outnumber that of PKR.
In the Lubok Antu Sports Complex alone, it was estimated that there were 3,000 BN supporters and 2,000 PKR supporters.
BN came in full force, led by Chief Minister Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud, who is also State BN chief; deputy chief ministers, Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Dr George Chan and Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Alfred Jabu, other state ministers and top guns in the state BN.
Representatives from Sabah BN, led by Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) president Datuk Seri Panglima Joseph Pairin Kitingan and newly-elected vice-president of Umno Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal, were also present to lend their support to Mussen.
As for PKR, they were led by Selangor Menteri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim, their assemblymenin Sarawak Dominique Ng and Gabriel Adit, as well as the other top brass in the party.
They were joined by their partners in Pakatan Rakyat – Democratic Action Party (DAP) led by its Sarawak chairman Wong Ho Leng and Sarawak National Party (SNAP) led by president Edwin Dundang.
Holding banners and flags, party supporters had gathered at the field near the complex from as early as 6.45am.
As the crowd grew, the constant jeering and intimidation from both sides also increased.
The able handling of the situation by the police made sure things did not go out of hand between the two sets of supporters.
At one time during the submission of nomination papers, a state PKR leader almost created a ruckus when he argued with BN leaders where the BN supporters were gathered.
Another tense situation was when an opposition supporter tried to intimidate BN supporters by waving the party’s flag as he walked past them. A total of 8,006 registered voters are expected to cast their votes in 24 polling districts in this constituency.