PORT DICKSON, Malaysia: On a bright Sunday morning, the beaches of the supposed tourist destination called Port Dickson are almost desolate - save for the odd family having a picnic, couple strolling by and food stall holder dozing off at 10am.
Scenes like these have become commonplace in the increasingly sleepy Malaysian coastal town. But with influential politician Anwar Ibrahim elected as the town’s new lawmaker on Saturday (Oct 13), there is fresh hope that change is on the horizon.
Anwar, once a jailed opposition reformist but now president of the largest ruling party, bagged a whopping 31,016 votes out of a possible 43,489. The advantage (23,560 votes) over his nearest rival is also the largest in the history of the constituency.
Although turnout dipped drastically from 82.8 per cent at the May general election to 58.25 per cent, it was still a better showing than three previous by-elections elsewhere in Malaysia, which all attracted less than 50 per cent of voters.
And more than a dozen locals Channel NewsAsia spoke to the day after the polls said they were pleased by Anwar’s victory - which will return him to parliament after a three-year absence and more crucially, allow the 71-year-old to eventually succeed Mahathir Mohamad as prime minister.
“To have Anwar in Port Dickson is our honour,” said sundries shop owner C K Teo. “All these years, since the very existence of this town, we have never had a future prime minister take charge of us.”
“A BETTER FUTURE”
As he addressed hundreds of supporters after his win Anwar promised he would “not waste this trust” invested in him - and Port Dickson residents like Azhar Husin intend to hold him to account.
“He won because he is the only one who can help,” said the 32-year-old matter-of-factly. “Who else can?
“PAS (Parti Islam Se-Malaysia) are not the government. And Isa (Samad) is not popular anymore,” the banana boat operator added, referring to the candidates who placed second and third behind Anwar respectively.
Said local merchant Najib Hamzah, 30: “Anwar is a leader of both PKR (Parti Keadilan Rakyat) and Pakatan Harapan (the ruling coalition). They control both the federal and state seats here. Surely he won’t let Port Dickson remain unchanged?”
During campaigning Anwar had promised to finally develop a stagnating town riddled with incomplete, derelict projects - and in the process lift tourism figures.
Teo, the shop-owner, said Port Dickson had “absolutely nothing left” to offer tourists. “When I was a child, the sand was white,” the 83-year-old lamented. “Now it’s like mud. Then you go into the water and there are rocks everywhere.”
Elsewhere Anisah, 27, expressed hope that the town’s infrastructure will be improved. “The repair of all the bumpy roads here could really be sped up,” she added. “And I hope all the problems the kampung folk told Anwar’s campaign people can be solved.”
“Sometimes, I feel it’s too quiet around here. It needs more development,” said Kavitha, who sells flowers in a push-cart outside a temple.
One reason she picked Anwar was the belief he would look out for the Indian community and other minorities. “Then my kids growing up here will hopefully have a better future,” said the 47-year-old.
Echoing the point was Mohamad Amir, 20 – still too young to vote but keenly interested in politics.
“People my age always talk about leaving Port Dickson to make a living, because there is nothing much to do here,” he said. “If the local economy improves as Anwar promised, maybe we can stay here to earn a decent income - rather than go to Seremban, Kuala Lumpur, Johor or other big cities to work.”
Such is the scale of optimism that parallels are already being drawn - in whispers - to Mahathir’s successful recasting of Langkawi from fishing village to bonafide tourist hotspot.
“I always say that one day Langkawi will change its name to Pulau Mahathir,” Teo grinned. “How does Port Anwar sound to you?”