PD by-election candidates from left: Saiful, Chan, Anwar, Nazari, Isa Samad, Lau Seck Yan and Kan Chee Yuem. Photo by Adam Aziz
PORT DICKSON (Sept 29): Thousands of people filled the Port Dickson City Council hall here today, where seven candidates made the cut for the much-anticipated Port Dickson parliamentary by-election.
The man of the hour is PKR president-elect Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, who is planning to return to Parliament via this by-election, to pave the way for eventually taking over as the next Prime Minister as promised by Pakatan Harapan in the last general election.
Buses upon buses carrying PKR supporters from across the peninsula were parked near the hall where nominations took place. Reporters numbered by the hundreds, and a chopper circled overhead on a not-so-typical Saturday morning in Negeri Sembilan's beach town.
Also attending the nomination day in support of Anwar were top Pakatan Harapan leaders including deputy prime minister Datuk Seri Wan Azizah, who is his wife, and finance minister Lim Guan Eng, the DAP secretary-general.
Ecomomic affairs minister Datuk Seri Azmin Ali was also present, notwithstanding signs of friction between the Anwar-Azmin factions in the on-going PKR party elections.
At the last minute, the number of candidates rose from six - as anticipated a few days before nomination - to a surprising eight, comprising six independents, as annouced by the Election Commission (EC) at 11am.
One application was later rejected. Former MIC secretary-general Datuk S. Kumar had also announced earlier that he had decided not to enter the contest.
The by-election was triggered by the resignation of Danyal Balagopal Abdullah, who decided to make way for Anwar to re-enter the political arena following the historic change of government in the 14th general election.
Danyal won a healthy majority of 17,710 against BN's Datuk VS Mogan and Mahfuz Roslan from PAS in GE14 on May 9.
Pas’ entry has upped the ante in the contest, and follows the decision of Umno to sit out this by-election.
Umno decided to boycott the contest on the grounds that a by-election is usually held due to illness or the death of an MP, or if the member was declared bankrupt. The PD by-election carries a price tag of up to RM3.6 million, according to previous announcements by the EC.
PAS is putting up army veteran Mohd Nazari Mokhtar as its candidate in the constituency, which is also the location of Malaysia's larger military bases and training camps.
The Islamist party is also banking on a reduced voter turnout to work against Anwar, and also hoping to get the support of voters who feel that Anwar is building his own family dynasty in the party, which is now the biggest political component in the federal government.
On Umno's absence, a PAS official said: "They are busy with the Umno General Assembly... They will join us during the campaign period in a week's time," adding that the loose PAS-led coalition Gagasan Sejahtera has no issue with its decision.
Two other independent candidates are also in the spotlight.
This includes Anwar's former aide Mohammad Saiful Bukhari Azlan, who accused the PKR leader of sodomy in the infamous 2008 Sodomy 2 case that landed Anwar in jail for the second time.
Also making a presence was ex-Menteri Besar Tan Sri Isa Samad, who was sacked from Umno for contesting as an independent in this by-election.
Calm but seemingly uncomfortable when approached by the media, Saiful said that he 'would not revisit past issues'.
"I am contesting in my own capacity, no one is paying for me. I really want to be an MP if given a chance - this is not about revenge, I just want to enter the democratic process," he said.
Showing composure, he was seen shaking hands with Anwar and sitting beside him in the hall at one point during the nomination process.
Saiful - who said he has been busy working on a start-up company - however declined to comment on why he chose the PD contest to make his entry into politics.
PKR supporters were not too happy - Saiful was booed on stage when the EC announced that his application was accepted, while Isa Samad applauded.
Speaking to reporters after the nomination, Isa was indifferent about his departure from Umno, adding that "some Umno members still support me".
"I have no idea [whether to fix ties with Umno later]... Right now my focus is to win the election," said Isa.
Isa brings a long history to the political scene. He was 33 in 1982 when he was endorsed by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohammad - then the fourth prime minister - to become the Negeri Sembilan Menteri Besar. He went on to hold the position for 22 years until 2004.
The three remaining candidates were also independents: Lau Seck Yan, Stevie Chan Keng Leong and Kan Chee Yuen.
Police reported that there were some 448 personnel on standby as well as a federal reserve unit (FRU), five light strike force (LSF) units, one air unit and drone jammers.
A commotion outside the hall right before nomination - which police said was only due to 'excitement' by Anwar's supporters was well managed, with no injuries or arrests.