It's stormy in Sarawak these days. And also getting hotter by the day.
You certainly cannot expect anything less than that when political leaders are fighting hard to woo voters -- some , for their own do or die survival, some to set the tone for "aram perubahan".
The 10th state election in Bumi Kenyalang is so intense, you can feel the heat.
Not since 1987 (the Ming Court Affair) have Sarawakians witnessed fierce fighting.
The playing field is so crowded - a record 213 candidates.
Here's a quick lowdown:
The candidates are from the ruling coalition :Parti Pesaka Bumiputra (PBB), Sarawak United People's Party (SUPP), Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) and Sarawak Progressive Democratic Party (SPDP) while the opposition are Damocratic Action Party (DAP), Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), Sarawak National Party (SNAP) and PAS.
BN is contesting all 71 seats - PBB (35), SUPP (19), PRS (9) and SPDP (8) - while DAP (15), PKR (49), SNAP (26) and PAS (5).
For the first time in 24 years, no seats have been won uncontested. In 2006, BN won 2 seats uncontested, 4 in 2001 and 19 in 1996.
In the 2006 state elections, PBB won all the 35 seats it contested, SUPP won 11 out of the 19 it contested, PRS won eight of the nine and SPDP won all eight seats it contested.
DAP won six, PKR, one and Parti Cinta Malaysia, one.
To say that times have changed is an understatement. Interest in Sarawak's state elections had never been so keen either.
We've witnessed the state elections before. But always as spectators. Sarawak was, well, just there.
The results/outcome had been quite predictable. Even when during the 2001 elections, things began shifting, though quite unnoticed, we, in Semenanjung, simply watched, and let it all past. We all, know that Sarawak is BN territory. Let me rephrase that -- BN territory made up of Sarawak-based parties.
There had been attempts by Umno "to go to Sarawak" but after failing miserably even before they actually started, they stopped trying.
The message was clear. Sarawak did not need Umno (read: Semenanjung) , thank you very much.
See, although it is a fact that Sarawak BN representation in parliament had always been sizeable, that fact had been taken so much for granted - until 2008, of course.
BN looks to Sarawak as its "fixed deposit", naturally because Sarawak parties hold 30 of the 140 BN seats in parliament. When the chips were down, BN had counted on Sarawak to give it a boost.
Sarawak is at a crossroads, to put it mildly. After the elections, Sarawak will not quite be the same again.
Campaigning is fierce with, for the first time, religion - Al-Kitab issue - is being played, over and over again.
On one side is the BN led by chief minister Abdul Taib Mahmud who is the focus of the opposition campaign. He is the opposition's single target. He is being attacked for his 30-year tenure, alleged crony corruption, nepotism and all the mismanagement and abuse arising from that.
The impounding of 35,000 bibles in Kuching Port sometime last year had dealt the BN a hard stinging blow. The dust has not quite settled yet even after the bibles were ordered released recently (after 18 months impounded) and a 10-point solution was offered.
This issue is being used and abused, even by Christian leaders to paint the BN as anti-Christian. Bungling government officers, yes, I agree. But, surely it is most unfair, and very wrong to accuse the BN of being anti-Christian.
On his "overstaying", Taib has responded by assuring that he would be stepping down after the elections. No date, though has been mentioned.
Taib, on his campaign rounds, has retaliated, questioning as well the leadership of Lim Kit Siang and Anwar Ibrahim and their dynasties as well as that of Pas' Nik Aziz and Hadi Awang.
"Menumbangkan Taib, Memerdekakan Sarawak" (Topple Taib, Free Sarawak) is among the powerful messages the opposition parties are sending out. Mostly, they're scaring the wits out of the people -- trying to convince them that Sarawak will be doomed if Taib stays.
The attacks are relentless even as he tells the people that Sarawak has seen sustainable development based on a 20-year plan, and in a lot of ways, is a model state.
Its hard core poverty and poverty levels have been drastically reduced, education has been improved and so on.
The opposition parties have even made connections and drawn parallels between him and Egypt's Hosni Mubarak (at first) and Libya's Muamar Gaddafi, goading the people to bring Taib down as the Egyptians and Libyans did with Mubarak and Gaddafi. I don't at all agree.
The premise is thoroughly flawed.
That said, I believe that Taib will make good his promise to step down. The sentiments seem to be too compelling to ignore.
On the other side are the opposition parties, mainly represented by the larger-than-life DAP. But all the same, they're gang-banging Taib and friends.
DAP is the real deal in the elections, in particular in Chinese-dominated seats. The party is no stranger in/to Sarawak, having made its entry in 1978 and capturing Bandar Kuching as its first parliamentary constituency in the state four years later (1982).
Sim Kwang Yang served as Bandar Kuching MP until1995. As it is, the DAP is confident of making a clean sweep of the 15 seats it is contesting although independent sources say 12 are already in their hands.
No surprises if they do well because they have been campaigning unremittingly in the Chinese areas.
PKR, on the other hand, has an uphill battle. Unlike DAP, PKR has always been viewed with suspicion in this land where Dayak and Iban nationalism is strong.
PKR is "parti Melayu Malaya" or "parti Melayu Semananjung" -- and it is contesting in mostly ethnically mixed seats.
PAS is just going for the ride.
Everyone's media tools are working overtime. It's how you're going to perceive the spin and propaganda -- between perception and reality.
But, as I write this, the DAP and friends are hitting the Chinese-dominated urban areas with heavy artillery.
So, on Saturday, Sarawakians will have to decide where they want to take their beloved state. Do they want change or Ubah under the DAP, PKR or/and PAS? Or give their trust in and the mandate to the BN for continued progress . Mansang!
Of course several factors come into play -- the young voters which make up a third of the 979,796 registered voters, with 300,000 of them below 40 years old. The largest concentration is in Kuching (numbering 85,000), followed by Sibu (54,000) and the Dayak votes (how seriously they view land and the Al-Kitab issues, whether Dayakism remain strong in some areas, while loyalty to BN in other areas) .
Whatever it is, Sarawak will never be the same again.
And that should be a good thing...