Port Dickson by-election: It is Anwar vs Isa

Syed Umar Ariff

AS with any other polling events, campaign trails can reveal at least a sliver of sentiment on voter acceptance towards contesting candidates.

Delivery of speeches, in particular, can showcase the candidates’ rapport with the voter base and how at ease the relationship between the two parties could be.

Pakatan Harapan’s candidate for the Port Dickson by-election Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, for instance, is a natural before the crowd as often testified by allies and rivals alike.

In between the warm breeze blanketing the narrow coastal roads of this seaside town, Anwar tried his best to charm the crowd with oratory skills, jokes and repeated “astounding” revelations that some segments in PD may have yet to read about; chief example is the controversial conversation he claimed to have had with the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong and how close he is with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The crowd, of course, laughed at his jokes, and clapped their hardest at his promises and the illustrated vigour of a “prime minister-in-waiting.” They were also always in awe whenever Anwar regales them with stories about his overseas trips to meet world leaders.

Anwar’s address is usually, a much-awaited respite after the usual snooze-fest of a preceding speech by PD’s former member of parliament Datuk Danyal Balagopal Abdullah, who would often accompany the PKR president-elect to explain the reason behind his resignation from the seat.

Understandably, it was something that Danyal needed to do, but one could not help to catch forty winks in between his awkward breaks of sentences.

But despite Anwar’s gayety in colouring his events with rainbows, there is something amiss or a certain detachment from the crowd; there is a lack of “intimacy” between him and his audience.

Of course, there is a strong confidence in Anwar’s chances to clinch victory in PD, but he is neither a local nor Madonna, whose popularity transcends demography, according to some.

Now, enter the only local in this seven-cornered battle – the state’s former menteri besar Tan Sri Isa Samad.

Isa is undoubtedly a controversial character; he is loathed by detractors due to past suspicions over graft practices and money politics. So much so that one commentator had even said his candidacy would send the “wrong message” to political stakeholders.

His entry into the ring has also led to some PKR leaders to launch their an unsolicited salvo against Isa, citing his alleged links to cases concerning the mismanagement of Felda, for example. Some quarters were clearly caught off guard at his decision to run for the polls.

But as a grassroots leader, he is largely respected not because of a cliched strong onstage personality, or firebrand persona behind the rostrum.

Isa’s reign over grassroots support remains undeniable, despite a halved election machinery following his exit from Umno in order to run for the by-election.

Port Dickson, is, after all, his home ground.

Unlike Anwar, Isa has so far opted to campaign in small groups with friends and family members in villages.

Isa makes sure that he addresses some members of the crowd with their names, as in to promote his familiarity with his voters. His audiences usually responded well, and some children knew him well enough to spot his old Mercedes Benz car and said: “Itu kereta atuk!”

That information alone is enough for rivals to send some of their scouts over Isa’s events.

However, again, Isa’s campaign is not without issues. His traditional and hardcore supporters are mostly Umno members who are barred from assisting Isa in his campaign after BN ruled that it will boycott the by-election.

There is worry that many might not turn up to vote for him, or spoil the ballot papers if they do not recognise the independent logo he is contesting under.

Only a few who would openly support Isa before the crowd, but cower before the media in order to prevent their “secret” to be known by top party leaders.

Here is a common scenario during Isa’s campaign trail:

One Umno branch chief: “I do not care if the party wants to sack me because of Isa. I will remain loyal to Tan Sri!”

The same Umno leader when met by the media five minutes later: “Plis jangan lotak namo ese yo (Please don’t publish my name).”

Whatever tickles your fancy.

The Port Dickson by-election is shaping up to be a heated affair, with Anwar’s camp bracing from uncertain threats posed by Isa.

It is slowly culminating into an exclusive battle between Anwar and Isa.

Source: NST Online