Commentary: First hurdle down but not all smooth sailing for PM-in-waiting Anwar Ibrahim

Even with the Port Dickson seat in the bag, there are more obstacles to clear before Anwar can assume the country’s top position, says one observer at the ISEAS Yusof-Ishak Institute.

Norshahril Saat, Channel News Asia

On Saturday (Oct 13), Malaysia’s so-called prime minister in-waiting Anwar Ibrahim won the Port Dickson constituency seat.

The result did not come to as a surprise because the seat is a Pakatan Harapan stronghold.

Its previous candidate Danyal Balagopal Abdullah from Anwar’s party Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) won the seat comfortably in a three-cornered fight against Mogan Velayatham from the then ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition and Mahfuz Roslan from the Islamic Party of Malaysia (PAS) .

BN’s candidate came in second, while PAS’ third. Danyal’s margin of victory against the BN candidate was 17, 710 votes, and the voter turnout was 83.2 per cent.


In this by-election, what many were interested to know was Anwar’s margin of victory because several factors seemed to have worked against him.

Not only is Anwar not from Negeri Sembilan, there were complaints by some segments of the community that the by-election was a waste of money, and could have been channelled to revive the country’s economy instead.

There were also talks of voter fatigue and rumours of tensions between Anwar and Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

On the other hand, Port Dickson’s multiracial demography gave Anwar an upper hand over his opponents. In Port Dickson, Malays make up 42.7 per cent of eligible voters, Chinese 33.1 per cent, and Indians 22.0 per cent. Indigenous communities make up the rest. PKR tends to perform better in seats with such a diverse population profile.

Anwar’s victory of 31,016 votes with a margin of victory of 23,560 votes over the first runner-up was a bigger margin than Danyal’s performance in May. Considering the lower voter turnout of 58 per cent, the result is encouraging for Anwar.


Although no huge party machinery was mobilised during Anwar’s campaign, big names came out to speak at his rallies. Minister for Finance Lim Guan Eng, Minister of Economic Affairs Azmin Ali, Minister of Defence Mohamad Sabu, Minister of Home Affairs Muhyiddin Yassin, and former Minister of Foreign Affairs Rais Yatim were notable politicians who came out to campaign for him.

Last week, Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad also came down to speak at a rally, squashing any speculation of rift between Anwar and him.

Mahathir normally does not campaign for his party in by-elections even during his first stint as prime minister between 1981 and 2003 so his appearance at the Port Dickson by-election campaign is out of the norm.

However, during the rally, Mahathir spoke more about national issues and economic problems rather than about Anwar. He also urged voters to think beyond personalities, particularly for the country, and joked that Anwar owed his rise in UMNO to become a minister (in the 1980s) to him.

It was Anwar who had nothing but glowing words for Mahathir. He said that he loved Mahathir “as a father and a leader”, and that he was the “best man to lead the country now”.

While the two leaders seemed comfortable on stage together despite the awkward shared back story, the big question is whether Malaysians buy this reconciliation. The fact that Anwar had to repeat in his speeches that he had forgiven Mahathir demonstrates how sceptical voters feel about the two joining hands.

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