PORT DICKSON, NEGERI SEMBILAN - Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) president-elect Anwar Ibrahim will face off against six other candidates, including the former aide who accused him of sodomy, in the Oct 13 Port Dickson by-election.
The 71-year-old political giant said he would be concentrating on winning the parliamentary seat and would not be drawn into the campaigns by other candidates, including former aide Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan.
"I am concentrating on my task, which is to strengthen the government under the leadership of Dr Mahathir Mohamad, and to ensure we fulfil our commitments to Port Dickson voters and people," he told reporters after the nomination process at the Port Dickson Municipal Council.
"It’s up to Saiful (if he wants to use the sodomy issue for campaigning). I don’t want to interfere," he added.
When met, Mr Saiful, who in 2008 accused Mr Anwar of sodomy, said he refused to raise old issues, adding that the by-election was not about vengeance or revenge.
"This is purely me entering the democratic process... It has been a long time (since we met). It feels good. We are mature enough in this new democratic era. We just said, ‘Hi,’” the 33-year-old said.
Others who are contesting include Parti Islam SeMalaysia’s Mohd Nazari Mokhtar and independent candidates - former Umno leader Mohd Isa Abdul Samad, Mr Anwar’s former aide Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan, Lau Seck Yan, Stevie Chan Keng Leong and Kan Chee Yuen.
Meanwhile, independent candidate A. Rajendran had his application rejected because his proposer was not a registered voter in Port Dickson. This is his second attempt at contesting a parliamentary seat. In April, the 50-year-old had his application rejected after he reportedly had insufficient documents in his filing for candidacy in the Bayan Baru federal seat and Batu Uban state seat.
The nomination process kicked off at 9am on Saturday (Sept 29) in the army town with crowds gathering to support the various candidates despite the sweltering heat.
Some of the supporters arrived as early as 6am, sporting headgear and clothes bearing the logos of their respective parties.
Ms Devamalar Arumugam, a self-proclaimed hardcore supporter of Datuk Seri Anwar, said she woke up at 4am to drive to Port Dickson to show her support.
Clad in a tailor-made sari made of 14 flags of the Pakatan Harapan ruling coalition, the 45-year-old from Puchong expressed her hopes for Mr Anwar's victory.
"I'm confident that he will win. I'm rooting for him," she told The Straits Times outside the designated nomination centre, the Port Dickson Municipal Council office.
Mr Anwar, 71, is expected to easily win the race for the seat in the PKR stronghold, which the party has won in previous elections.
Mr Saiful, 33, who in 2008 accused Mr Anwar of sodomy, said outside the nomination centre on Saturday: “I can’t wait to see Anwar inside.”
Mr Anwar was acquitted by the High Court in 2012 of the sodomy charge but the acquittal was overturned by the Court of Appeal in March 2014, and he was slapped with a five-year jail term that stopped him from contesting in the 14th general election.
Following Pakatan Harapan’s landmark victory in May 13 polls, Mr Anwar was released from prison after a full and immediate pardon by the King.
The Port Dickson by-election was called after the incumbent MP, Datuk Danyal Balagopal Abdullah, controversially stepped down to allow Mr Anwar to contest the seat and make a return to Parliament.
Penang Institute's political scientist Wong Chin Huat said to excite voters, Mr Anwar needs to treat Port Dickson as a mini referendum instead of another by-election.
"He needs to take the by-election on how he can bring Malaysia forward after Mahathir, who has turned an Arch Reformist with his latest pledge on United Nations human rights covenants. Anwar needs to fire Malaysians' imagination - not just the local voters - on what changes he can bring," he said.
"He did that with the 2008 Permatang Pauh by-election. But this time, the game is trickier, he needs to appear visionary, statesman-like (not defensive) without looking that he may make Mahathir a lame duck. This is a definitive battle for his ascendance and Anwar would have to show his best," he added.
On the Islamist PAS party fielding a former air force officer, Mr Wong said: "PAS made a smart move to field an air force officer, hoping to get some protest votes over Danyal's resignation. But the military is relatively secular in its outlook... Certainly, the vocal Patriots group that has slammed Anwar won't favour PAS."
Opposition coalition Barisan Nasional is boycotting the contest, saying the ward was vacated to "fulfil the political ambitions of one person".