DATUK Seri Anwar Ibrahim has been going on at a punishing pace in the campaign for Port Dickson.
Those watching him campaign the last one week are convinced that he has recovered from all those health problems that plagued him when he was imprisoned.
He is giving his all to the campaign and his dancing gig at a ceramah to canvass for the Indian votes has been the talk of the town – the man has got the moves.
But now that the campaign has reached the mid-point, the question is whether the Prime Minister-in-waiting can move the Malay vote.
He has won over the Indian and Chinese voters. Some local MCA leaders are even said to be supporting him.
But the last three by-elections have shown that the Malay vote is split among Umno, PAS and Pakatan Harapan and there may be a repeat in Port Dickson.
As such, the Anwar team was genuinely pleased when Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad agreed to join the campaign on Monday.
“Sitting PMs usually do not campaign in by-elections. The fact that Mahathir wants to go down to campaign is a big gesture. It’s an acknowledgement that Anwar is important to Pakatan,” said KRA strategy director Amir Fareed Rahim.
The PKR side hopes that the Prime Minister will be able to nudge the Malay vote towards Anwar.
They also hope that Dr Mahathir will quash the perception that Tan Sri Mohd Isa Samad is the proxy candidate of Parti Pribumi.
The former Negri Sembilan mentri besar was known as a “Mahathir man” and had been staunchly behind Dr Mahathir in his persecution of Anwar in 1998.
The gossip persists even though Mohd Isa has denied any hidden hand behind his candidature.
Mohd Isa, who is a witty orator, has been telling his audiences that he will win by “one vote” because he is the only one among the seven candidates who can vote for himself.
The other candidates are not registered to vote in Port Dickson. It is his way of saying that he is the real “orang tempatan” or local born whereas the rest are outsiders.
There is a highly organised team managing Anwar’s campaign.
From the very start, one of his advisers and election expert Prof Datuk Redzuan Otman had briefed the team on an action plan to bring out voters.
Based on the last three by-elections, Redzuan had identified problems to look out for as well as a system to bring out voters on polling day.
“Winning is one thing; our focus is on voter turnout and a credible majority,” he said.
PKR has held the seat since 2008 and Redzuan estimates that a voter turnout of more than 36,000 will give Anwar a winning majority of some 20,000 votes.
A more significant signal from Dr Mahathir’s impending appearance on the campaign trial is to show that things between him and Anwar are coming along well.
Speculation of suspicions and distrust between the pair have refused to go away despite declarations of mutual support and being photographed holding hands and gazing into each others’ eyes.
In fact, the perception that something is cooking has intensified following the admission by Umno president Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi that the party is a “government-in-waiting” and is willing to work with any party.
“It confirmed that there is some bargaining going on,” said a Penang lawyer.
More recently, there have been rumours of a secret “London meeting” between Dr Mahathir and a top PAS leader.
“The history between them cannot be overlooked. They are two tigers, it’s difficult for them to be on one hill. They united because of a common enemy. With Najib facing charges in court, they may need to bond over something else.
“But we have to give them credit that they are willing to work it out,” said Amir.
The above Penang lawyer pointed out that in politics, what you see is not always what you get.
He recalled the “famous embrace” of 1998, when the Dr Mahathir and Anwar wrapped their arms around each other amid swirling rumours of a political fallout.
The photograph was carried on the front pages of all the newspapers to show that all was well but a few days later, everything went boom! And Anwar was sacked from the government.
Dr Mahathir has expressed his commitment to the succession plan many times.
But saying it in Port Dickson will take it to another level of sincerity given that the by-election is the launch pad to Anwar’s premiership.
Tun Daim Zainuddin, arguably one of the most powerful figures behind Dr Mahathir, also seems to be doing his part to paint a rosy picture of the situation.
The media-shy tycoon turned up at the seaside town to speak at a ceramah alongside Anwar yesterday.
Anwar on his part is believed to have advised his firebrand vice-president Rafizi Ramli, who has been critical of the two Tuns, to stay away from the limelight in Port Dickson.
Will all these gestures of goodwill in Port Dickson put an end to conspiracy theories of a rift between the Prime Minister and his successor?
“I don’t think so. Everyone will be speculating right to the day Mahathir steps down and Anwar takes the oath of office,” said Amir.
However, said Amir, Mahathir going to PD makes for great optics. “Every little thing helps,” he said.
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