THE outgoing Port Dickson MP described the man who is due to take over the seat as the “Nelson Mandela of Malaysia”.
But the Port Dickson by-election has less to do with Nelson Mandela than the making of the next prime minister.
The by-election in this scenic seaside seat will mark the grand return of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to Parliament.
“It was something that had to happen sooner or later but the fact that it is happening at this particular point in time is what makes it so interesting,” said political analyst Khaw Veon Szu.
The Port Dickson polls is coming close on the heels of three by-elections that were marked by extreme political fatigue and poor voter turnouts.
Those by-elections were caused by “acts of God”. Port Dickson, on the other hand, is a forced by-election or what some have called the “PD Move,” a reference to the Kajang Move that aimed to make Anwar the Selangor mentri besar in 2014.
It will also be taking place amid a very intense PKR election where the division in the party is playing out in the fight between Rafizi Ramli and Datuk Seri Azmin Ali for the deputy president post.
“The seat is a sure win for Anwar although the mixed factors are not the most ideal backdrop for a by-election,” said Khaw.
It will take time to get used to Negri Sembilan as Anwar’s new political base, and the most-asked question has been: Why Port Dickson?
Rembau MP Khairy Jamaluddin, whose constituency is next door, tweeted, “Hello neighbour?”
Port Dickson is a far cry from Permatang Pauh which gave birth to Anwar’s political career. It lacks the political symbolism although its ethnic make-up – 44% Malays, 33% Chinese and 22% Indians – is tailor-made for the PKR leader.
PKR has held on to Port Dickson, previously known as Teluk Kemang, since 2008. The incumbent Datuk Danyal Balagopal Abdullah won by a landslide, and it is no secret that the former navy officer had support from the big army base in the area.
Another much-asked question the last few days was why the rush? After all, there is still more than one-and-a-half years before Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is due to retire.
“Anwar is clearing his first hurdle. Dr Mahathir keeps saying he (Anwar) needs to be an MP for the succession to take place. Anwar needs to put it in motion. Actually it is good he is going at it early. If he wins, the prime minister post is assured, and it is good to have more certainty,” said a political insider.
Anwar also wants to ride on Pakatan Harapan’s honeymoon period.
“He needs the feel-good factor because for the first time, he is contesting in an area outside of his home ground. If he waits too long, he may have to bear the impact if the Pakatan government’s approval ratings go down,” said the insider.
Anwar, said Khaw, needs to be back in Parliament in order to have a greater degree of control over the transition.
There are few secrets in politics but the “PD Move” has been one of the better-kept ones.
It was not until a few days ago that The Star broke the story that a seat would be vacated by mid-month for Anwar to contest. Then the guessing game began with numerous misses on which seat Anwar would settle on.
The most intriguing thing was that Azmin and his camp seemed to have been kept in the dark about the by-election plans, with Wanita chief Zuraida Kamaruddin lashing out about the kongsi gelap or secret society.
Hours after the announcement on Port Dickson, Zuraida criticised the decision, saying that it was made without going through the party process.
Another Azmin ally Dr Afif Bahardin, who is vying for the Angkatan Muda Keadilan leadership, had tweeted a day earlier: “The ideal time for a by-election is after the party election. One move after another, we have to be patient and organised.”
Meanwhile, there has not been a word from Azmin about the latest development.
The Economic Affairs Minister is at the World Economic Forum in Hanoi. He has been tweeting about the forum but seems to be ignoring the Port Dickson decision.
To compound matters, his elder son Ameer tweeted that the by-election is a waste of time and urged Anwar to let the younger generation take over.
There is trouble on the horizon.
Azmin has clearly been left out of the decision-making.
It was yet another indication of who Anwar trusts and who he does not.
The key personalities in the Anwar inner circle seem to be Rafizi and secretary-general Datuk Saifuddin Nasution. They are in lockstep with Anwar and they are now calling the shots in the party.
The Pakatan component parties will have to step up to the plate to campaign for Anwar. Their challenge is not about support, it is about bringing out the voters.
The voter turnout has to be better than the other by-elections because this is about electing the next prime minister. A voter turnout of less than 50% will not be good in terms of optics.
The outcome of the Port Dickson by-election will be as predictable as the last three by-elections but it will definitely not be boring because Anwar is never boring.
Moreover, everyone will be watching whether Dr Mahathir and Azmin will come out to campaign for Anwar.
Port Dickson will soon be known for more than tourism. It will be the town which launched the grand return of the future prime minister to Parliament.