Battle for Port Dickson by-elections intensifies on voting day

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KUALA LUMPUR – It may have been raining heavily on the west coast of peninsular Malaysia for the last week or so but the intense heat of political campaigning could be greatly felt by the voters in Port Dickson and nationwide. And ever since 12 September 2018 when its former member of parliament Danyal Balagopal Abdullah announced his resignation thus vacating the parliament seat, the entire nation’s focus and resources had been aimed at this seaside town in the state of Negeri Sembilan.

The fact that the Pakatan Harapan coalition government’s prime minister-designate (after current Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad) and PKR president-elect Anwar Ibrahim is one of the seven candidates contesting has made this latest by-election very high stakes indeed. This is the fourth by-election Malaysia has held since its 14th general elections back in May 2018 and its first for a parliamentary seat which had been triggered by a resignation. The first three by-elections had all been for state seats within the state of Selangor, a PKR-Pakatan Harapan stronghold and all due to the said seats’ former assemblyman passing away.

Although Anwar Ibrahim is highly anticipated to win this by-election by many political analysts, this election is far from being a walk-over victory for the former deputy prime minister and political prisoner (now been given royal pardon by the King). As it was seen on nomination day held on 29 September, he is being challenged by a group of varied personalities, ranging from Mohamad Nazari Mokhtar-PAS, a former air-force personnel with the Royal Malaysian Air-Force to scandal-tainted former UMNO strongman and chief minister of Negeri Sembilan, Isa Samad and Mohamad Saiful Bukhari, the former aide of Anwar Ibrahim whom he was accused of sodomising. The other three candidates Stevie Chan Keng Leong, Lau Sek Yan and Kan Chee Yuen were all independents who are contesting as part of the democratic process.

The Election commission of Malaysia (EC) had set for all the candidates contesting a campaigning period of 14 days, which would technically end at midnight on Friday, 12 October. During the campaigning period, all the candidates had been busy canvassing the entire parliament area of Port Dickson, which is quite vast as it encompasses 5 states seats, which are Sri Tanjung, Bagan Pinang, Linggi, Lukut and Chuah. THe candidates’ activities included talks, dinners as well as walkabouts around Port Dickson town itself.

Military and police personnel as well as their spouses totaling an estimated 7,000 plus had already cast their votes on Tuesday, 9 October at a military training base and police headquarters in Port Dickson as part of the early voting process allowed by the Election Commission. Also included were postal votes numbering about 70 plus.

The seven candidates are vying to win the trust and mandate of the 75,000 voters who are registered in the parliament seat of Port Dickson. Many Malaysians believe and predict that Anwar Ibrahim would easily gain victory over the other six candidates with his heavyweight political experience and popularity. Due to the highly popular confidence of many that Anwar Ibrahim would easily win, the Election Commission is worried that this would end up with a lower voter turn-out than is originally targetted. And so they have been promoting the by-election extensively through the media to encourage voters, especially those who work and live outside of Port Dickson to return home to vote. The projected forecast is a 70% voter turn out.

The only other candidate in this election who poses a real threat to Anwar Ibrahim is none other than Isa Samad. He was not only the former chief minister of the state for 22 years, but also a Port Dickson native as well. It is widely believed that he still holds great sway with the Malay Voters in the village areas around Port Dickson as well as UMNO members who are registered voters in the parliament seat. Rumour has it that UMNO secretly fielded Isa Samad to challenge Anwar Ibrahim’s return to the Malaysian parliament.

The man of the hour, Anwar Ibrahim himself has not been taking it too overconfidently despite the size of his support team who had been helping him campaign or being touted as the favourite to win. Analysts believe that it would all boil down to the size of the majority in his victory, which has to be quite big given that he is next in line to the premiership when Mahathir Mohamad steps down. The clear majority he must attain and the fact he triumphed over six other candidates would legitimize his political comeback and seal his mandate to lead Malaysia after Mahathir Mohamad’s tenure is over.