Malaysia: Hundreds turn up at Mahathir’s rally in PM Najib’s constituency

  • Hundreds of Felda settlers and their families turned up at the closely-watched visit by former premier Tun Mahathir Mohamad to Pekan on 28 Feb 18, the home constituency of Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak.
  • Dr Mahathir’s visit is a bold challenge to Datuk Seri Najib’s grip on his home state Pahang ahead of the upcoming national polls. It was also seen as a tit-for-tat move after the Premier just two weeks ago visited Langkawi and made infrastructure investment promises totalling MYR1.3bn.
  • In previous elections, opposition politicians have largely been blocked by Umno supporters from campaigning in Felda plantations. Or, the opposition had bypassed these rural estates as they are strongholds of Umno, the lead party of the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition.
  • The Felda lands strongly back Umno and BN because the government help these farmers and their families with the harvesting of their mostly palm oil plantations, give out easy credit for replanting, offer cheap fertilisers, aid their home building and fund their children’s education.
  • But recent huge scandals at Felda, the Federal Land Development Authority, and its subsidiaries have given the Pakatan Harapan (PH) opposition pact the hope that they could chip away at BN’s traditional Malay vote bank.
  • Dr Mahathir’s evening venture into Umno’s hardcore centre was thus closely monitored, especially as there were threats of violence. Pekan Umno division committee member Abdul Rahim Yahya had earlier warned that “there are going to be problems, there will be fights”.
  • Dr Mahathir acknowledged to the crowd their important role in the coming election, saying: “Felda is a stronghold. It is seen as vote deposit for Umno. Even though Felda has supported Umno before, but if they know what has happened, they would not be strong supporters,” he said.

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