MANY friends are making their way north. To Permatang Pauh to be precise. Some have taken leave to join others as the political merry-go-round make its way for a by-election scheduled on Aug 26.
Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, once Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad's chosen one to lead the nation, is set to stand as a candidate after his wife and Keadilan's chief, Datuk Seri Wan Azizah Ismail, vacated his MP seat to pave the way for hubby to seek his way back into the Dewan Rakyat.
It's not yet known who else will stand. Barisan Nasional is likely to field an Umno local leader but this has yet to be decided. The cynics within Umno said they have yet to decide who to be sent to the slaughter house. Permatang Pauh, they say, is Anwar's stronghold and he has come to reclaim what he believed is his.
Anwar can't be too sure about that really. He may have solid reasons to believe so but politics is the art of the impossible. The PKR's de facto chief have seen it all, and he believes he has popular support and public sympathy behind him, no pun intended.
The recent debate on national television gave Anwar a God-send opportunity to showcase himself, especially to new voters and those who have not seen or heard directly from him before. He did put up a fairly good performance, enough to make some voters rally behind him.
Wan Azizah defended the seat on Anwar's behalf twice, and did so with considerable ease. Anwar was also said to be eying Bandar Tun Razak in KL but opted for Permatang Pauh as that is viewed a safe seat for him. No point taking unnecessary risks, he must have thought.
For the Aug 26 by-election, it will be the BN who will have to take the fight to Anwar. The task of marshalling the forces is left to Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Tun Razak, Deputy President of UMNO, himself a Prime Minister in waiting.
To me, this is one by-election where a lot more than just one Parliamentary seat is at stake. Will Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi join the fray and make an appearance in Permatang Pauh, after all it's a seat within his state? In a by-election, it's not always you get to see the party chief joining the campaign rounds.
I'm told, and this has always been the practise in by-elections, the contesting parties will throw everything into the ring. It's almost like total engagement everywhere; no quarters asked, no quarters given. It'll be the same here.
You can almost hear it now - PKR will accuse the BN of using Government machinery during the campaign period; the BN will counter by saying Pakatan Rakyat speak with forked tongues and whip up sentiments to bring voters to their side. You can also hear various conspiracy theories soon, as the masterminds get to do some serious work soon.
How will Keadilan's bedfellows treat this campaign, especially PAS? PAS is having its annual assembly in Ipoh over the weekend and I'm quite sure party leaders and members will deliberate on this. Anwar's pending court case, though not a matter to be used in the campaign, may influence PAS' stand in this by-election.
If you are heading towards Permatang Pauh, and doing some campaign work, I suggest you bring along a sleeping back. Accommodation won't be easy but there's going to be plenty of Rumah Selangor or Rumah Johor and what have you. A by-election is also God-send to local entrepreneurs who will capitalise on this period to make the extra ringgit.
If, as the roadside pundits predict, Anwar wins, what happens to the BN, and more specifically UMNO? Those who have been through such battles before say the task for BN/Umno's is to try to reduce Keadilan's (Anwar's) majority. But first, we have to wait who will be Anwar's opponent.