PORT DICKSON - The resort town of Port Dickson may be the centre of a seven-corner fight in next week's by-election with star politician Anwar Ibrahim contesting, but its residents do not seem that excited.
If anything, the mood is eerily quiet. "It's nothing like GE14," said stall owner Hasanah Sadibi, 22, at Teluk Kemang beach.
She was referring to Malaysia's 14th general election in May, when Pakatan Harapan (PH) ended the six-decade rule of the Barisan Nasional government after an intense campaign nationwide.
Datuk Seri Anwar is part of PH, and is president-elect of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), one of the coalition's four component parties.
On Wednesday (Oct 3), Mr Anwar had jogged along the beach where Ms Hasanah sells T-shirts and sarongs.
But many residents whom The Straits Times spoke to had not caught a glimpse of the future prime minister, or any of the other candidates.
Most did not even know there are seven candidates in the race.
"Really? That's a lot," said Ms Hindon Yusof, 49, a trader.
When told that five of the candidates are running as independents, Ms Hindon said: "It's a waste of our time. What can they do even if they win?"
His packed full-day schedule means he speaks at up to three different locations each night.
While it is a given that Mr Anwar will win, he cannot afford the embarrassment of receiving fewer votes than his PKR colleague Danyal Balagopal Abdullah, who won the ward in May with 36,225 votes, or 59 per cent of the valid votes cast.
"Many say Anwar will win, so there's no need to bother with voting," Mr Anwar said during his speech in the Chinese village of Tanah Merah on Thursday. "But if I win by a small margin, I'll get whacked. It's embarrassing for me".
Datuk Danyal vacated the seat in September, triggering a by-election that paves the way for Mr Anwar to become an MP again.
Taking no chances, Mr Anwar has even pleaded with local residents to get their friends and relatives working in Kuala Lumpur to return to vote.
"Have pity on me. I've been kicked out (of Parliament), jailed," said Mr Anwar.
"If Port Dickson wants me to be a part of their family, I ask all of you my friends to help out."
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is set to stump for Mr Anwar next Monday, quashing rumours of strained relations between the former foes. Mr Anwar is meant to take over as prime minister from Tun Mahathir in two years, as agreed in the PH pact before the general election.
Dr Mahathir's presence might also attract outstation voters to return home for polling day on Oct 13.
Locals are pinning their hopes on the PM-in-waiting to bring progress to this quiet town.
"We haven't seen development in decades. We need someone who can bring change to the area," said Mr Mohd Zin Jantan, 61, a boat repairman.
Mr Anwar's main rivals are Tan Sri Isa Samad, a former menteri besar of Negeri Sembilan who served for over two decades, and Parti Islam SeMalaysia's (PAS) Mohd Nazari Mokhtar, an air force veteran.
While PH and PAS host nightly "ceramah" or speeches, with their party flags lining the streets, the independent candidates have been limited to walkabouts and house calls. "We've got no budget for banners and whatnot," said Mr Chan.
Even Mr Isa, a heavyweight politician and Port Dickson native, has run a lacklustre campaign.
He quit Umno to contest as an independent, following the former ruling party's decision to boycott the by-election.
"Isa may be a local boy but he's got too much baggage," said Ms May Chin, 45, a telco store owner. "When he was in power, he had many friends, but I don't think the people are on his side".
Mr Isa was investigated by graftbusters last year over dubious investments when he was chairman of Felda, the national land development agency.
Locals say they prefer a party-backed representative because an independent candidate is powerless to develop the constituency even if he wins.
Faced with either PAS or PH's Mr Anwar, their choice is clear.
"We should give Anwar a chance to enter Parliament. Otherwise, we won't know if PD would ever change," said tailor Manjula Devi Murusamy, 47, using the common moniker for the coastal town.
Trader Asman Kadir, 56, concurs. "It's best to vote for someone who's part of the governing coalition. PD can get a shot at development."