Port Dickson voters will be spoilt for choice picking their MP from among seven candidates vying for the seat. pix by IQMAL HAQIM ROSMAN

A seven-way battle for a parliamentary seat is certainly a decision-making nightmare for stakeholders.

What took place in Port Dickson over the past two weeks, did not revolve around Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim alone despite all the fanfare, strength of his machinery and his popularity.

Including the PKR president-elect, there are seven players who stand on an almost equal footing to gain support from an expected low voter turnout.

The share of votes will be split between seven tranches, and winning a comfortable majority is undeniably an uphill task.

The Election Commission has predicted a 70 per cent voter turnout on polling day, but the EC has gotten its forecast quashed during the Sungai Kandis, Seri Setia and Balakong by-elections.

Political fatigue among the people persists, leading to worry wrinkles on the candidates' foreheads.

Anwar, for instance, will have to rely on more than 11,000 outstation voters who are living in Johor and Klang Valley for a comfortable margin.

Breaching the majority record set by former incumbent Datuk Danyal Balagopal Abdullah at 17,000 is no easy task.

Furthermore, as an outsider, Anwar will have to be appealing to the outstation voters who are also commonly known as "in-betweeners"; their hearts may be native to the seaside town of Port Dickson, but their minds are influenced by narratives dictated by the country's current political landscape.

There are efforts in place set by his team - among others, his "robocalls" to urge voters to return home may be hip and millennial, but a promising feedback is yet to be seen.

"Chinese and Indian voters seem to have made their choices. But the real battle would be for the Malay votes (which forms 43 per cent)," said analyst Prof Sivamurugan Pandian.

Anwar's biggest contender is none other than a candidate with chequered past, former menteri besar Tan Sri Isa Samad.

The controversial former Umno leader's supremacy among grassroots supporters has been illustrated as "undeniable" by both friends and foes.

Despite Isa's tainted reputation due to several graft suspicions, Anwar and his team realise that the 69-year old is very much a threat due to his personal touch with voters.

Attacking Isa during a campaign is fair game, although frowned upon by some segments of voters who were directly indebted to Isa's service as an elected representative when he was the Bagan Pinang state assemblyman.

But Isa is severely lacking in terms of election machinery after he left Umno to defend his political home ground.

And there are only 60 per cent voters residing in the parliamentary constituency and not all of them are putting Isa on their favourite list.

His electorate consist substantially of local Umno leaders, who are now stuck between a rock and a hard place - they have to support his campaign silently, or risk disciplinary action following the order to boycott the by-election from the top.

An Umno leader from Pasir Panjang, who is an ardent supporter of Isa, said out of 53 party branches in Port Dickson, only 23 to 25 would back him.

"The rest hate him. But it is understandable. You can't make everyone happy especially in politics," said the Umno leader who declined to be named.

Apart from getting voters onboard, Isa has another challenge awaiting him - the recognition of his campaign as an independent.

Isa admitted that convincing people that he was no longer with Barisan Nasional or Umno, is difficult.

"It is not easy. Apart from explaining over and over again why I had to leave Umno, some still think that my name on the ballot paper is under the 'dacing' (scale) symbol.

"I have to tell them no. I am an independent and have a different logo. Repeatedly," he said.

Over the past week, Pas candidate Lieutenant Colonel (Rtd) Mohd Nazari Mokhtar has been sleeping in cars after completing a round of campaign trail.

Nazari has been displaying a spirited endeavour while trying his best to wear a smile in place of a weary look.

His supporters, however, are mostly party members.

Although Pas top guns such as Ulama chief Datuk Mahfodz Mohamed and secretary-general Datuk Takiyuddin Hassan were on the ground to engage in a blitz attack against Anwar's candidacy, it seems the party has yet to find an encouraging outcome in terms of voters' sentiments.

Even Pas president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang's raspy and fiery ceramah last week had failed to rake in the desired brownie points among townsfolk.

Nazari is now working to promote his military background as a platform to help resolve any woe experienced by army veterans.

However, this change of focus might have served him well if it was done much earlier.

Party workers as of yesterday, have resorted to canvassing for votes by the roadside near the popular PD Waterfront, holding placards and green balloons at traffic light stops.

Pas is expected to garner similar votes at about 6,500 this time around - most of their voters are Pas members; it is a no-brainer that the party will at least court support from existing members.

As for the controversial participation of Anwar's former personal aide Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan, he too has garnered traction among some sympathetic villagers who believe that he was indeed sodomised by Anwar.

Saiful's venture into the by-election was very much scorned by PKR members, who openly jeered at the 33-year old when he was announced as one of the contestants by the returning officer.

The entrepreneur too, cannot help to entertain voters into reiterating that he was indeed sexually assaulted by his former boss, regardless of a commitment against using the controversy as an election capital.

For example, it was only a few days ago that he was seen repeating his famous sworn statement in a video, to affirm that the sodomy had taken place.

If Muslim voters in this constituency are impressionable and doubtful of Anwar's sexual orientation, then there will be no walk in the park for the latter.

"Psychologically, maybe Saiful's campaign can be favourable to him. But his attacks might lead to sympathy points for Anwar," Sivamurugan pointed out.

What about the remaining independents Lau Seck Yan, Stevie Chan and Kan Chee Yuen?

What these three share in common, is their protest against the engineering of the by-election, which of course, is being similarly voiced out by many.

Their separate campaigns have unwittingly worked to deliver the same message to the people - engineering a by-election to further one's ambition is ethically wrong.

It is not easy to gauge whether their campaign has the desired outcome among the electorate but surely for those who share similar views, being absent on polling day is another form of protest.

Clearly, voters' reception and turnout is a grave concern among the candidates.

At the same time, the heated battle for Port Dickson has turned the constituency into a political launchpad for all vying for the parliamentary seat.

If Anwar wins, it will mark his grand return to the parliament; if Isa wins, it will prove his political legitimacy as a grassroots leader; if Pas and the rest of the grassroots wins, they will emerge as killers of giants.

There are at least one underdog and a few potential dark horses pulling support from their respective segments of the electorate, no matter how small the numbers being projected as of now.

But numbers can grow and if you play your cards right, the last few hours before polling can be a game-changer.

Let the battle royale begin.

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