This is the constituency unimaginatively known to the people here as “Across River” for ages. There was no Petra Jaya then. There were only Matang and Semariang — two well-known townships on the north side of the Sarawak River.
To Kuchingites, “Across River” would also mean the collection of Malay kampungs sprawling along the river, right across from downtown Kuching on the south side of the river.
Its only other prominent landmarks back then were the Astana — the residence of the Brooke rajahs, British colonial governors and, today, the Sarawak Yang di-Pertua Negeri — as well as Fort Margherita.
Fort Margherita, named after Renee Margaret, who was the wife of Sir Charles Brooke, the second Rajah of Sarawak, was built in 1879 to protect Kuching from being attacked by pirates.
It now houses the Brooke Gallery, an exhibition showcasing the history of Sarawak under the Brooke Dynasty.
“Across River” changed in the 1970s when former Sarawak chief minister, the late Abdul Rahman Yakub, decided to develop the north side of the Sarawak River in Kuching as the state’s new administrative centre.
Rahman, Sarawak’s third chief minister, was a visionary of sorts. His decision to build the new Satok bridge across the river parallel to the then Brooke-era suspension bridge was the catalyst for opening up that vast hinterland to development.
A road, now a four-lane highway, was then built. It snaked its way to the new administrative nerve centre of the state. “Across River” was never the same again after that.
The area was later christened “Petra Jaya” in honour of the grandfather of our current Yang di-Pertuan Agong, who was then the reigning king.
Over four decades, after Rahman set the ball rolling, Petra Jaya is maturing into a pleasant, green and self-contained city with neatly laid-out residential areas, some of which are now among the most sought-after locations in the city.
Petra Jaya, with an electorate of almost 50,000, is another PBB stronghold. Its incumbent MP is Fadillah Yusof, the party’s Youth leader.
Many were surprised when Fadillah was appointed by Prime Minister Najib Razak as the federal works minister, a senior portfolio helmed for a long time by none other than MIC supremo S Samy Vellu.
Fadillah’s brother, Bustari Yusof, is a well-known Sarawak businessman with varied interests, including in road construction and hospital support services.
In GE13, Fadillah crushed his sole PKR opponent, Ahmad Nazib Johari, with a majority of 21,443 votes.
What makes Petra Jaya a most difficult area for Pakatan Harapan is that Satok, held by Chief Minister Abang Johari Openg, is one of the three state seats within the Petra Jaya parliamentary constituency.
Abang Johari has been the Satok representative for some 40 years and it is clear that the 75% Malay/Muslim electorate only know PBB and Abang Jo, as the chief minister is affectionately known.
With Abang Jo’s influence and his long, unblemished record of service, Petra Jaya will remain a tough nut to crack for the opposition.-FMT