KUALA LUMPUR,. The Port Dickson by-election is seen as a springboard for PKR president-elect Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s return to Parliament and to eventually become prime minister. But there is more to it than just that.
Malay Mail takes a quick look at the factors that contributed to and the significance of the wins and losses.
Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim (31,016 votes) — endorsement for PM-in-waiting
Anwar won 71.32 per cent of the total 43,489 votes polled in Port Dickson, which also translates to a bigger vote majority at 23,560 when compared against his predecessor Datuk Danyal Balagopal Abdullah’s 17,710 majority.
This was achieved amid a 58.3 per cent turnout of the 75,770 registered voters — a relatively low turnout rate against 83.6 per cent on May 9, but the highest when compared against the last three by-elections this year that recorded historic low turnouts below 50 per cent, said to be due to voter fatigue.
Oh Ei Sun, principal adviser of the Pacific Research Centre, described the results as a “resounding win” for Anwar, who will have more “bargaining chips” from now on in relation to the issue of his succeeding Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad as prime minister.
“It’s not so much PKR as Anwar being the star in this by-election. The overwhelming majority despite a low turnout clearly demonstrates that the popular will for Anwar to return to Parliament and perhaps eventually succeeding Dr M is very strong.
“This would put tremendous pressure on Dr M to go through with the PH electoral pact to have Anwar succeed him in 1.5 years,” Oh told Malay Mail when contacted.
Executive director of independent pollster Merdeka Center, Ibrahim Suffian, said Anwar’s victory was due to the latter being seen as a national leader, while the rest were either local leaders or independents — aside from PAS — which traditionally have never really been taken seriously by voters here.
“Furthermore, Anwar is widely believed to be the future PM and this can bring a lot of benefit to the folks in PD, so there was a lot of pragmatic reasons to support him as well,” Ibrahim told Malay Mail when contacted.
Anwar will be sworn in as Port Dickson MP tomorrow when Parliament convenes again, moving him further on his new journey that started in May from prison.
As PKR’s Datuk Danyal Balagopal Abdullah, who gave up his seat to trigger this by-election, had on the eve of voting day said: “It was decided that he will go from the prison to the palace, then as the president of PKR then to Parliament. This is part of the process for him to be the prime minister.”
2. Pakatan Harapan (PH) — support across ethnic lines
Anwar’s win marks a victory for his coalition too. Ilham Centre executive director Azlan Zainal said this is the dominant factor that trumps everything else.
A triumphant Anwar declared yesterday that the win with a higher majority was a vote of confidence for the ruling PH coalition, highlighting that the results showed favourable support from all ethnic groups.
Looking at the Port Dickson seat’s 75,770 registered voters, it is not dominated by any ethnic group (Malays 43 per cent, Chinese 33 per cent, Indians 22 per cent, other ethnic groups 2 per cent). In other words, a mixed seat — within PH’s comfort zone.
Oh agreed that PH will continue to do well in mixed seats especially if the proportion of non-Malays are substantial, noting that the 14th general election (GE14) clearly showed that it may not do well in non-mixed seats — such as the Malay rural heartlands of Kelantan, Terengganu.
Azlan said the boost in PH support was due to the coalition being the government of the day and also Dr Mahathir whose appearance at the halfway mark gave the campaigning a lift.
PAS (7,456 votes) — not the right mix
Despite fielding former army man Lt Col (Rtd) Mohd Nazari Mokhtar in Port Dickson which has an army base, PAS only managed to slightly improve on its GE14 haul of 6,594 votes in this seat, which is an addition of only 862 votes. In terms of percentage of total votes polled, PAS’ share dipped slightly from 10.75 per cent to 9.73 per cent.
Mohd Nazari was just about 2,000 votes shy of losing his deposit, but came in second place as the only other candidate besides Anwar to run on a party ticket.
But with Umno and its coalition Barisan Nasional (BN) officially sitting out the Port Dickson by-election, why did PAS not gain more votes, especially with its traditional image of being the alternative to Umno when it comes to “defending” Islam and Malay interests?
Ilham Centre executive director Azlan Zainal explains that some of the BN votes actually shifted to their rival PH, citing Anwar’s increased majority which he said was backed by an increase in Malay and army votes.
“There were also army and Malay voters that voted for PAS for the reason of defending Malay-Islam but it was not sufficient to win,” he said, noting that the Anwar and PH factors trumped these considerations.
PAS also ultimately failed to make up the numbers, as the Islamist party was only focused on the Malay and army vote and did not get non-Malay votes, he said. He also noted that PAS only had a small support base to start with in the parliamentary seat that was traditionally mostly a contest between BN and PH or its predecessors.
Perhaps it is also a case of PH picking the right seat with an ideal demographic? Or in other words, Port Dickson’s ethnic composition not favouring PAS?
While agreeing that only does well in Malay-dominant seats (mostly rural areas but also performing decently in such urban seats), Oh highlighted the Port Dickson results as a continuation of recent trends involving the dynamics shown by Umno and PAS.
“This is in line with the Sungai Kandis and Sri Setia by-election trends, whereby if PAS puts up a candidate with Umno support or if both PAS and Umno put up candidates (albeit implicitly as in Isa’s case), then PAS would typically perform decently. But if it were Umno putting up candidate with PAS support, then the results would be mediocre,” he said.
2. The indies
Next up are the five independent candidates, who all lost their deposits after failing to garner at least one-eighth of the total votes polled, which would be 5,436 at the minimum.
Azlan said it was difficult for independent candidates to be accepted in Malaysia where voters back parties, adding: “Besides having no clear offer, being unknown, independent candidates are also seen as not capable of carrying the public’s voice.”
The former Negri Sembilan mentri besar took a gamble by giving up his Umno membership and seemingly defied his former party’s decision in order to join the Port Dickson race, relying on his long-standing presence in the state and his local boy appeal.
Casting his hopes on the majority of the 13,000 Port Dickson Umno members to support him, Isa who had previously led the Negri Sembilan state government for 22 years in the end only came in third by mustering 4,230 votes — 9.73 per cent of the votes cast or about half of what PAS managed to garner. He was the best-performing independent candidate albeit losing his deposit, coming in at third place.
Ibrahim said: “Isa ran as independent and without party sanction. Hence many BN supporters wouldn’t really back him up. As opposed to the PAS candidate which still obtained sizable following even if only among Malay voters.”
Azlan said the results showed Isa still had backing as a senior politician even as an independent candidate, but said this was insufficient as voting was still done on party lines and as Isa only had the support of loyalists while there were “protest” votes against Isa among Umno members, especially Umno youths.
Twitter personality Stevie Chan Keng Leong stood out among the independent candidates by getting the most votes out of all the political newbies, albeit at 337 votes. Friendly to PH, Chan said he joined out of principle as he was against the engineered by-election called the “PD Move” as he felt politicians should not take the mandate given by voters for granted.
Azlan described the votes garnered by Chan as “protest” votes by voters who were either disappointed with PH for engineering the “Port Dickson” move or by unfulfilled election promises, or by those who were angry with BN for not contesting.
Azlan said it was BN’s mistake for boycotting the Port Dickson race.
“If BN joins, [the competition] would be more fierce. Even Isa Samad contesting as an independent could also get 4,000 votes, imagine if it was BN who joined and not PAS.”
Azlan explained that the boycott showed Umno had yet to recover after its GE14 defeat and lack of confidence of a win against PH and Anwar, adding that BN is not yet seen as able to “rise up after the GE14 defeat and after the BN breaking up”.
Oh agreed that the Port Dickson results with Umno’s implicit joining via Isa indicates the former ruling party would not be making a comeback soon.
“Yes, Umno is adamant against true reforms such as shedding its corrupt and extremist image. So it has difficulty appealing to more open minded multiracial urban and suburban electorates. On the other hand, it cannot beat PAS in contest for religious extremism and racial supremacy,” he said.
The former political aide of Anwar has the dubious distinction of getting the least votes — only 82 votes or 0.19 per cent of the total 43,489 votes cast.
Azlan, who had on the eve of voting day shared his observations that Saiful Bukhari’s campaign was solely based on the Sodomy II case, said the candidate was seen as a disrupter and joining the by-election due to his “personal sentiments”.
“The issue of sodomy no longer sells and voters consider it as resolved,” Azlan said when commenting on Saiful Bukhari’s dismal results. Anwar was previously charged with sodomising Saiful Bukhari, but has this May received a royal pardon.
Oh said Saiful Bukhari “never stood a chance. Most question his motive for coming out at all”.
Noting that Port Dickson is a suburban seat, he said sodomy was “never a concern” with urban or suburban voters, but is believed to still be an issue among rural voters.