Malaysia: Uphill battle for opposition in Dr M’s home state: Kedah – 18 Sep 2017

  • The general election might be months away, but Team Mahathir and the opposition alliance are already pulling out all the stops to win the hearts of rural Malay voters in their do-or-die state of Kedah.
  • Former premier Mahathir Mohamad played to the crowd in Jitra town in May 17 when he lashed out against Prime Minister Najib Razak in Kedah-accented Malay, drawing laughter and claps.
  • Tun Dr Mahathir still commands a personal following after his decades in ruling party Umno, but questions remain as to whether this will be enough to sweep the opposition into power, especially given the three-cornered battles expected ahead with the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) alliance and its Muslim-based ally Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS). In the 2013 election, most Kedah voters chose BN or PAS.
  • Negeri Jelapang Padi or the Rice Granary State is known for its rolling rice fields and conservative Islam. Its rural Malay communities are more party-loyal and care more about direct benefits, which gives the upper hand to parties with a well-oiled election machinery and strong grassroots influence such as BN and PAS.
  • In a neighbouring village, fervent PAS supporters see the election as a test of their Islamic faith. PAS assemblyman Md Zuki Yusof noted its formidable presence among Malays in Kedah. He said: “We stand on Islamic principles. PAS won in Kedah before, and people were impressed.”
  • But the opposition alliance of former political enemies – PPBM, Chinese-based Democratic Action Party (DAP), Anwar Ibrahim’s Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) and PAS splinter party Amanah – are counting on more than Dr Mahathir to tip the balance in their favour.
  • The support of non-Malays and urban dwellers, as well as the groundswell of anger against Umno over national issues, such as high living costs, the weak economy, corruption and scandal-hit 1Malaysia Development Berhad, will give them a fair fighting chance.
  • “It is this combination that forces Umno to not rest on their laurels,” Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs chief Wan Saiful Wan Jan told The Straits Times. But he noted that the fear of losing Malay political power to ethnic Chinese and Umno’s firm hold over rural female voters “make it very difficult for PH to make a confident claim on Kedah at this stage”.
  • BN has another big plus in affable Kedah Menteri Besar Ahmad Bashah Md Hanipah, who replaced Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir in Feb 16. Even so, Kedah PKR chief Azman Ismail is confident that PH can secure a simple majority of 22 state assembly seats and eight parliamentary seats in Kedah, if it continues to engage voters over bread-and-butter issues.
  • That would be a big jump from the eight state assembly seats and four parliamentary seats currently held by the alliance. “Our Achilles’ heel will be if we play to the gallery on issues of race and religion,” said Dr Azman.

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