VIDEOS INSERTED UPDATE 5 BERAPIT, Penang - A three-cornered fight awaits Malaysian Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim at Permatang Pauh, a constituency he has held from the 1980s, but that is unlikely to worry him much.
The more than 30,000-strong crowd stretching at least 2km long that accompanied him to the nomination centre at the Institut Kemahiran Belia Negara in Berapit, Penang is a testament to his huge popularity and resurgence as the country's foremost Malay leader.
The huge crowd of mostly everyday people from all age groups also underscores the amount of hope Malaysians have pinned on him and his Pakatan Rakyat coalition to effect change in the country. They want him not only to win the Permatang Pauh parliamentary seat but also to wrest the federal government from Prime Minister Najib Razak and corruption-riddled Umno-BN coalition.
"We are quite optimistic (of wining the federal government) but we have to work very hard," Anwar told Malaysia Chronicle as his minders forged a way for him to get back onto his Jelajah Merdeka Rakyat bus.
Focus on federal government, Permatang Pauh a sure-win for Anwar
In Permatang Pauh, Anwar will face Umno's Mazlan Ismail, an engineer and vice president with Telekom Malaysia who was also a former PAS member. An independent candidate Dr Abdullah Zawawi Shamsuddin, a Penang-based medical practitioner, is the surprise third contestant.
There is little doubt that Anwar will steamroll over both Mazlan and Abdullah, who are political lightweights compared to the 64-year-old former deputy prime minister, who is not only well respected within Malaysia but maintains close rapport with top leaders from around the world.
Indeed, if Pakatan wins more than half of the federal Parliament's 222 seats, Anwar will become the country's 7th prime minister and go down in history as the first man to ever effect a regime change in Malaysia, which has been ruled by the Umno-BN since 1957.
Many pundits believe that in the past few weeks the odds have further shifted to Anwar's favor. One example cited is the latest controversy allegedly instigated by Umno-BN over the DAP's right to use its traditional 'Rocket' logo in the coming May 5 general election.
Although a late announcement from the Registrar of Societies finally confirming it would not challenge the DAP's use of the Rocket on the balloting papers, it may be too late for the Umno-BN government to regain voters' trust.
"It is too late. The way the ROS and Prime Minister Najib Razak's administration handled the issue stinks to high heaven. Few voters doubt there was an attempt to shackle the DAP and the sympathy votes will flow to the Pakatan," Eddie Wong, a PKR veteran told Malaysia Chronicle.
GE13 off to a spirited start
Be that as it may, supporters from both camps are already staking claims to victory outside the IKBN compound.
The PKR camp, cheerily decorated with flags including those of coalition mates DAP and PAS, was a hive of activity. The BN camp, although much lesser in number, was situated directly opposite the Pakatan's and was just as busy and brightly decorated with trademark blue 'dacing' (weighing scales) flags and banners. Police personnel and RELA volunteers were also present in fairly large numbers.
"We hope that everything will run smoothly. Any disturbance outside will be controlled by the police," said Jusni.
Despite its huge size, the crowd at the Opposition side of the IKBN compound showed tremendous discipline - with many refusing to leave despite the blazing hot sun and preferring to wait for nearly three hours under the sweltering heat. It was only around 11.30am that Anwar finally came out from the nomination hall. He had arrived just before 9am.
Taking turns to shout 'takbir' and 'bangkit rakyat', the mixed crowd of mostly locals and consisting of both elderly and the young waited patiently until their 'hero' emerged.
"Victory, victory for the people," an elderly Malay lady told Malaysia Chronicle, when asked why she had come to support Anwar.
"The truth. BN has been around for a long time, more than 50 years and things have not changed much," she added when asked why supported the Pakatan.
For M Siva, a Malaysian Indian in his twenties and working in the entertainment industry, it is clear that nothing but a sweeping Pakatan victory will do for him. When asked why he supported the coalition, why did he want change and why did he think change was necessary, his answers were revealing in their steadfastness.
"I came to support Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. I am very sure Pakatan Rakyat will win. Because Anwar can bring the change to Malaysia. [He] can reduce the costs of living. We need to change," M Siva told Malaysia Chronicle.
The Election Commission's returning officer Jusni Ismail had earlier estimated they could finish processing the nominations by 10.30pm. However, it was not to be and Jusni could only finalize the process an hour after his targeted time.
"We are ready to take in the papers of whomsoever wishes to contest," Election Commission's returning officer Jusni Ismail had earlier told Malaysia Chronicle outside the IKBN hall.
"At 10am, we will stop accepting nomination papers and around 10.30am, God willing, we should be able to announce the candidates."
Umno sex blogger Papagomo, who had previously declared intentions to challenge Anwar at Permatang Pauh did not turn up. Papagomo had recently posted several videos on his website that PKR leaders have condemned as gutter politicking and a "barefaced" bid by Najib's Umno party to tarnish Anwar's credibility.
Umno promises a tough fight
The IKBN center is also where nomination papers for 3 state seats will be processed - Penanti, Permatang Pasir and Seberang Jaya.
In Penanti, PKR's Norlela Yusoff will contest against Umno's Ibrahim Ahmad; in Permatang Pasir, PAS' Dr Salleh Man will fight it out with Umno's Anuar Faisal Yahaya and in Seberang Jaya, it will be PKR's arif Bahardin against Umno's Mohammad Nasir Abdullah
The supporters camped at the Umno side of the IKBN compound was significantly lesser, less than 2,000 in total. Nonetheless, they gave a spirited welcome to their candidates, who - not to be cowed by the sheer size of Anwar's supporters - linked arms and sang the BN standard as they marched out from the nomination centre.
Meanwhile, Umno leaders have vowed to give Anwar a tough fight on his home ground.
“When he (Mazlan) is ready to fight (in Permatang Pauh), it’s like (Anwar) meeting his match. He is highly qualified, while his strong religious spirit and being a PAS leader before will definitely gain him sympathy from some of the PAS people and the fence-sitters," Sidek Baba, a senior lecturer from the International Islamic University, had told Bernama last week.
“All these (factors) may give him (Mazlan) some advantage. It is a wise decision to send the best candidate there to face a leader who desperately wants to become prime minister."