High voter turnout a blessing for Anwar

Commentary by Wan Hamidi Hamid

AUG 26 Some 48 per cent of the 58,459 voters have cast their votes by noon today and the Election Commission is expecting a high turnout of' 80 per cent for the Permatang Pauh by-election, almost similar to the turnout at the March 8 general election.

Observers note that a high turnout will favour Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim as a by-election usually attracts fewer voters due to the fact that many people think one seat will not change the equation of the government.

The Penang state government has declared today a public holiday to encourage voter turnout but Barisan Nasional leaders have lambasted the move as being politically motivated to ensure Anwar's victory.

The Parti Keadilan Rakyat de facto leader is contesting the seat vacated by his wife Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Ismail who won by a 13,398-vote majority with an 81.2 per cent turnout on March 8.

The weather was fine throughout the whole morning but by 12.45pm it started raining, as predicted by the Meteorological Department.

But as early as 11am, some 50 per cent of voters at Sekolah Kebangsaan Permatang Pauh had cast their votes. Pas vice-president Datuk Husam Musa, who was met by the press outside the school compound, was happy with the high turnout. He and other Pas leaders have been campaigning for Anwar since the Aug 16 nomination day.

Many opposition Pakatan Rakyat supporters are hoping for a bigger majority, up to 20,000, despite BN candidate Datuk Arif Shah Omar Shah's confidence that he can still make it, winning by a small margin.

The excitement among voters is an indication the political tsunami that swept Penang in the recent elections is likely to be repeated here. Even if the expected heavy rain dampens the effort of some late voters, the votes are expected to go Anwar's way.

And even if Anwar fails to win with a bigger majority, he is likely to win. The only problem for him later is if BN leaders pick on particular points.

It is because of this that PKR campaigners, with the help of their Pakatan partners Pas and DAP, have been working day and night for the past nine days to ensure a bigger majority.

His ally DAP veteran Lim Kit Siang too hopes for a bigger majority.

"As I said in two eve-of-polling ceramahs last night, there is no doubt of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim being re-elected as MP for Permatang Pauh and his return to Parliament after an absence of a decade.

"The only question is Anwar's majority. I will not be satisfied unless it is an even bigger majority than Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Ismail's 13,398-vote majority in the March 8 "political tsunami" to trigger a mini political tsunami in Malaysia by itself," he wrote in his blog today.

It's a tough but for Anwar, Permatang Pauh is his "kubu" (fortress).

The former deputy prime minister first won the parliamentary seat when he defeated Pas incumbent Zabidi Ali with a majority of 14,352 votes in 1982. He repeated his feat by beating Pas's Mohamad Sabu with a 10,479-vote majority in 1986, and Pas's Mahfuz Omar by 16,150 votes in 1990.

By 1995, even Pas had given up the contest. Anwar won with a thumping majority of 23,515 votes, defeating DAP's Abdul Rahman Manap.

After his sacking from the government and subsequent jailing by former mentor Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in 1998, the general election a year later proved that the people's support for him was strong. His wife Wan Azizah won with a majority of 9,077 votes, defeating Anwar's former Umno strongman in Penang Datuk Dr Ibrahim Saad.

The failure of PKR to reinvent itself by 2004 however almost cost Wan Azizah her seat when she only managed to win by 590 votes, defeating a former National Mosque imam Datuk Pirdaus Abdullah. The recent political tsunami however brought Wan Azizah and her party back into the limelight.

The expected 80 per cent voter turnout may come through for him as those who have decided to choose Anwar continue to throng polling centres this afternoon amidst heavy rain. After all, many of them have shown a similar fighting spirit throughout the nightly ceramahs despite the downpours.

Voting ends today at 5pm and results are expected as early as 7pm.

The Malaysian Insider

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