PORT DICKSON - Malaysian politician Anwar Ibrahim stormed to victory at the Port Dickson by-election on Saturday (Oct 13), garnering 72 per cent of the vote.
The de facto leader of ruling coalition Pakatan Harapan (PH) also proved his mettle by winning with a majority of 23,560 votes, exceeding that of the previous MP Danyal Balagopal Abdullah, who had won the parliamentary seat in the May general election by a margin of 17,710 votes.
"This victory is an important milestone and a vote of confidence for the Pakatan Harapan government and the reform agenda and the Prime Minister personally," said Datuk Seri Anwar at a press conference after the results were announced.
The 71-year-old former deputy prime minister said he would be sworn in as an MP on Monday (Oct 15), bringing him a step closer to fulfilling the agreement by PH to eventually make him Malaysia's eighth prime minister, after Tun Mahathir Mohamad.
Political analyst at the University of Tasmania's Asia Institute, Prof James Chin, said: "Anwar will be entering Parliament with his reputation as PM-in-waiting intact. He will be seen as a heavyweight and will be on track to take over from Tun Mahathir in two years time."
Mr Anwar told reporters: "I just phoned Mahathir to inform him, and he feels very proud of the results."
Voting got off to a damp, sluggish start, with the light drizzle in the morning keeping constituents home and away from the 32 polling centres in the parliamentary district.
Attendance picked up in the afternoon and the Election Commission said 58.2 per cent of the 68,317 eligible voters had cast their votes.
This was the highest turnout for a by-election since the May election, but still fell short of the 70 per cent target hoped for by Mr Anwar's supporters. Voter fatigue and disenchantment were partly to blame. Port Dickson was the fourth by-election since the May polls.
Mr Batumalai Ranggasamy, 46, a maintenance technician, had travelled from Klang, Selangor on Saturday to cast his vote.
"You can see the polling centre is quite empty this time because people don't like this by-election (being held), and the government spending money on it," he said, referring to the estimated cost of RM3.6 million (S$1.2 million). "If you are already in power, spend money on poor people, not this."
Mr Anwar could not stand for election in May because he was in prison. He received a royal pardon after PH won federal power, allowing him to contest in the Port Dickson seat that was vacated specially for him in September by Datuk Danyal.
The constituency is considered a stronghold for PH as Parti Keadilan Rakyat, which Mr Anwar leads, won it comfortably in the last three general elections.
Saturday's seven-cornered fight saw Mr Anwar's main rivals - former air force officer Mohd Nazari Mokhtar of Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) and former Umno vice-president Isa Samad, who was Negeri Sembilan menteri besar for 22 years - trailing far behind, only collecting 7,456 and 4,230 votes respectively.
Tan Sri Isa and the remaining independent candidates will lose their deposit after failing to secure at least one-eighth of the votes cast. They are Mr Anwar's former aide Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan, who lodged the sodomy complaint that landed Mr Anwar in jail in 2015, Ms Lau Seck Yan, Mr Stevie Chan Keng Leong and Mr Kan Chee Yuen.
After the results were announced, Ms Lau said she hoped "PD will be transformed as promised in so many ways", using the common moniker for the seaside town.
Many hope that with Mr Anwar as their MP and future PM, a faster pace of development will finally reach Port Dickson.
"It is good that Anwar Ibrahim wins, as he is from the ruling government, so he would have the funds to develop PD. That is what everyone in PD wants," said Ms Laili Sulaiman, 54, who owns a shop selling scarves.