Dr Mahathir draws the crowd in Langkawi

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on April 17, 2018.
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LANGKAWI: The opposition candidate for prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad will contest the Langkawi parliamentary seat, confirming widespread speculation.

“Mahathir has a sentimental spot for Langkawi. He poured his love into this island,” said PKR president Datuk Seri Wan Azizah Wan Ibrahim in a poem as she announced Dr Mahathir’s candidacy at a sweltering political gathering in Padang Matsirat on Sunday.

Dr Mahathir, the chairman of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM), will contest under a PKR ticket to get around a provisional ban on his party. The opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan has also failed to be registered.

About 2,000 people attended the talk where PPBM candidates were named for all the 14 state and six Parliament seats it is contesting in Kedah.

Dr Mahathir, 93, will be contesting Langkawi for the first time after retiring from politics in 2004 and holding the Kubang Pasu parliamentary seat for seven terms until 2004 since its creation in 1974. He is expected to go against one-term incumbent Datuk Nawawi Ahmad who won with a majority of 11,861 votes against PKR’s Ahmad Abdullah in 2013.

Dr Mahathir’s legacy in Langkawi is strong as residents remember his past efforts to transform its agriculture-based economy into a tourism attraction by giving it free port status in 1987, and pumping in investments in infrastructure, entrepreneurship and development.

His son, Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir, 54, who will be standing in the Jitra state seat (instead of defending his Ayer Hitam seat) and recontesting the Jerlun parliamentary seat, hopes that Kedah would swing back to the opposition coalition since Dr Mahathir is standing in Langkawi.

“But not only Kedah. We hope this would bode well for Perlis, Penang and Perak, and maybe the whole country,” the PPBM deputy president and former Kedah menteri besar told reporters later. The political talk held in an open field was attended by a cross section of young and old residents, who clapped and responded intermittently when issues such as the high cost of living, lack of subsidies and the 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) saga were raised.

In his speech, Dr Mahathir said he was glad to spend time with them and was thankful there was no rain. Just after his candidacy was announced, it rained heavily, prompting comments like “hujan keramat” (blessed rain).

“I am so happy that many Langkawi residents have come to attend this talk. I believe even the residents have not seen this number of people gathering in one place to listen to speeches. We the people should be responsible to ensure that our country is governed well,” he said in colloquial Kedah language.

The Ayer Hangat and Kuah state seats would be challenged by locals Johari Bulat and Mohd Firdaus Ahmad respectively.

Mukhriz said PPBM candidates in Kedah represented a good mixture of new politicians, businessmen and non-governmental organisation leaders. However, he continued to dismiss talk of him becoming Kedah menteri  besar and said that a suitable candidate will be chosen if the coalition wins the state.

Former Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs chief executive officer Wan Saiful Wan Jan, who is contesting the Pendang parlimentary seat, said there are lots of challenging issues there.

“It is a community including Felda settlers who are living mainly on agriculture, and they are affected by the price of rubber, cost of living and quality of life. In the past, hardly any issue was raised in Parliament and I think that was unfair to them,” he told The Edge Financial Daily.

The 43-year-old Kedahan who was born in Alor Setar conceded that PAS is relatively strong in Tokai, and it’s the same with Barisan Nasional (BN) in Sungai Tiang, the two state constituencies in Pendang, but he is willing to work hard to persuade the voters that a “vote for PAS is a vote for BN to remain in power”.

“I have been active in Pendang for the past few weeks now. It is like my second home and I can definitely feel the sentiment on the ground. Realistically speaking, I am a newbie and I don’t have much experience but if the party was not confident, they would not have fielded me there,” he added.

“The majority in the last general election was only 2,600, which we consider as marginal. It is definitely a winnable seat for us,” said Wan Saiful. BN’s Datuk Othman Abdul is expected to defend the seat after holding it for four terms.