TOMORROW will be a crucial day for Port Dickson. It will know whether it would have a prime minister-in-waiting as its member of parliament. If Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, one of the seven candidates vying for the parliamentary seat, wins the by-election tomorrow night, he would be well on his way to take over as the country’s eighth prime minister from Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
Following an arrangement agreed upon by the four partners of Pakatan Harapan after the 14th General Election, Anwar could become prime minister in two years.
Dr Mahathir was in Port Dickson on Monday, throwing his support behind the PKR president-elect.
Despite the rain, the crowd was 5,000-strong. Not all were locals.
“We have people coming from other parts of Negri Sembilan and also Melaka. They all wanted to see and hear from the prime minister,” one local leader told the New Straits Times at the Deen Berjaya Kari Kepala Ikan restaurant at Port Dickson, a popular meeting place for out-of-town party leaders.
Local and out-of-town PKR and Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia leaders, however, could not give a good enough reason as to why Anwar had chosen Port Dickson, a perennial spot for weekend breaks for city folk, for his reentry into Parliament.
They didn’t think it was an important question to address.
“It is time we see Anwar as the leader he is meant to be. He has the charisma,” one leader said.
A PKR campaign manager, who was one of those responsible for the “Kajang Move” to get Anwar to contest the parliamentary seat in 2014, said this time, Anwar’s return to power had been agreed to and signed by all PH leaders.
“‘Why so fast?’ they asked. I say, ‘why not?’ Anwar is jobless right now. He’s been in prison for a long time. So why don’t we give him work to do? He’s bored sitting at home doing nothing. He wants to work, so let him,” he said in jest.
Jokes aside, political analyst Professor Dr Mohd Azizuddin Mohd Sani offered this explanation.
“Anwar may have chosen PD over the other seats for two reasons — the people and location.
“Port Dickson is considered urban. When it comes to urbanites, they don’t really see a need for a local to represent them. Urban voters usually view their candidate as a national representative, and it fulfills Anwar’s criterion,” he said when met in Telok Kemang.
Azizuddin, who is the director of Universiti Utara Malaysia’s Research and Innovation Management Centre, also saw the strategic move by Dr Mahathir in going to PD on Monday night to campaign for Anwar.
“We had wondered why Dr Mahathir came to PD on Monday night and not on the night before polling day. We realised that early voting was on Tuesday. Their vote is important,” he said.
The Election Commission reported a 63 per cent early voter turnout. A total of 7,191 people are registered for early voting, comprising police and army personnel and their spouses.
In the 14th General Election in May, Datuk Danyal Balagopal Abdullah won the seat with a huge majority of 17,710 votes. He won 36,225 votes against Barisan Nasional’s V. S. Mogan (18,515 votes) and Pas’ Mahfuz Roslan (6,594
Anwar had openly expressed his intention of getting a bigger majority than Danyal’s, but if statistics of the past three by-elections this year were anything to go by, he may not be able to achieve it.
By virtue of meeting the profile of a “national representative” for an urban seat like PD, Anwar has been canvassing for votes in the town area compared with his nearest competitor, Tan Sri Mohd Isa Abdul Samad, who is contesting the seat as an independent.
Anwar kept a tight schedule, campaigning mainly in non-Malay areas, courting Indian and Chinese voters despite concerns among grassroots leaders over Malay votes.
“They still distrust us (PKR and Bersatu). They need to give us a chance. It’s only been five months since PH came to power. We are still working to get them to change their perception of us.
They are mostly hardcore BN supporters, and we are trying to engage them, inform them why it is important to understand the change in political dynamics.
“We have to make them understand what Anwar can bring to PD and how it can benefit them in terms of job creation when there is development and investors here,” a PKR grassroots leader said.
There may be seven candidates in the by-election, but political analysts say it is actually a fight between two contenders — Anwar and former Negri Sembilan menteri besar and former Teluk Kemang Umno division chief Isa.
Pas is the other party besides PKR contesting the by-election, with the rest of the candidates independents, but the Islamic party’s presence is only seen through its flags. Analysts say while Pas
acknowledges that it may not win the byelection, it sent a candidate “to nurture democracy”.
Isa, who is using a chair as his symbol, is well-liked among the Malays, especially his personal touch with the locals.
“He doesn’t know me, but when I tell him my father’s name, he can tell me about my father, my grandfather and the other elders in the family. It goes to show that he knows people here and he knows the area. What is not to like about him?” one voter said.
Nurul Rosli, 45, from Bagan Pinang, said Isa knows what the people want and need.
“Anwar is busy selling himself as the future prime minister. He didn’t even come to Bagan Pinang. It is all about himself and Putrajaya. Isa knows about what is happening in this town. He’s gone on personal visits, from house to house, and going to the villages to talk to voters,” he said.
PKR and Bersatu members told NST that Isa’s mode of campaign — “dia bagi hamper dan duit” (he gives hampers and money) — is old and jaded, saying “we don’t have to do that. We don’t have to give out anything.
People want change.”
The “people want change” mantra is equally worn out, but Anwar’s supporters are embracing his candidacy as something that has been cast in stone — a prophecy, one might say.
But this orchestrated by-election could be his downfall. Not all like the way it came about. Netizens have voiced their displeasure since Danyal’s announced he is vacating his seat for Anwar.
A constituent, who wanted the NST to quote him as Lim, said: “This strategy they are using is merely playing with the people’s vote. If they, who claim to fight for justice, can do this, then anybody can do it in the name of justice.
Tell me, what is the meaning of the election then?”
Another constituent, Shawn, described the by-election as “a manipulation”.
He said it was obvious that political parties were taking advantage of the change in the country’s political landscape to pursue their political objectives and standing, but were doing it by playing with the people’s sentiments.
“When I tell my friends what I think of it, they say I’m crazy. They say this is what the people have been waiting for.
“No one can deny they (PKR) have strong supporters, but Anwar is not a clone (of Dr Mahathir). I would want him (Dr Mahathir) for one term or even the next 10 years,” he said.
Port Dickson has 75,770 registered voters, of which 40 per cent are Malays, 33 per cent are Chinese, 22 per cent are Indians and two per cent are others.
If statistics of past by-elections are anything to go by, Port Dickson can expect a voter turnout of about 60 per cent tomorrow. Anwar’s fate — whether he can make his way into Parliament and eventually become prime minister — lies in the hands of these voters.