Dr Mahathir Mohamad,  the opposition’s choice for prime minister, is expected to contest in either Kubang Pasu, Langkawi or Putrajaya. The Malaysian Insight recently went to these areas to gauge the level of support for the former prime minister. This three-part series kicks off with a look at Kubang Pasu.

KUBANG Pasu was just another sleepy town in Kedah, where dense forests were the norm and doctors and engineers a rarity.

The border towns of Bukit Kayu Hitam and Changlun are in the parliamentary constituency, while Jitra is the largest settlement there.

In the 1970s, there was no development in the traditional agricultural settlement, and the only building in the area were colonial shophouses in Jitra.

Kubang Pasu Amanah branch chief Taib Abdul Rahman said all that changed when Dr Mahathir Mohamad became the first MP of Kubang Pasu in 1974.

He said Dr Mahathir started Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM), Politeknik Sultan Abdul Halim Muadzam Shah and Kedah Matriculation College during his administration.

“In less than two decades, Dr Mahathir turned Kubang Pasu into the education hub of the north.”

“Looking at Kubang Pasu now there are a lot more professionals here compared to many years ago because of the colleges and universities Dr Mahathir created.

“Previously, professionals preferred to work in places like Kuala Lumpur and now there are many doctors, engineers and other professionals here,” he told The Malaysian Insight.

Under Dr Mahathir’s administration the Bukit Kayu Hitam industrial area spanning 334.88 km, was set up in 1995.

Among the big companies located at the industrial area is the Aerospace Composites Malaysia Bhd (ACM) which is an international joint venture company between Boeing and Heckel, USA, which manufactures composites for secondary structures of commercial aircraft.

Other industries include logistics, and warehouses are also located 2km from the border with Thailand.

Dr Mahathir’s other achievements include building the Dewan Wawasan, which is a multipurpose hall, the Jitra Bus Terminal and constructing the Darul Aman highway from Jitra to Bukit Kayu Hitam, which is a toll-free route that is part of the PLUS network.

Taib said Kubang Pasu was formerly a communist area. The Sintok district where UUM is located was declared a black area in 1960s during the emergency.

“Dr Mahathir was the one who changed the landscape of the area by setting up UUM there.

“No one dared go to the communist area but look at how he has changed and developed the area,” he said.

Dr Mahathir is now chairman of the Pakatan Harapan opposition coalition, and Kubang Pasu has been earmarked as one of the three constituencies he may contest during the 14th general election. The other constituencies are Langkawi and Putrajaya.

At the PH convention in Shah Alam last week, the 92-year-old was chosen as its prime ministerial candidate and PKR president Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail his deputy should the opposition pact come into power after GE14.

Advantage doctor

Taib said Dr Mahathir has the advantage if he contests in Kubang Pasu.

“If anyone contests against Barisan Nasional candidate Johari Baharum, there is a 50% chance of winning. But if Dr Mahathir contests here, there is a 65% chance because he has always been a prominent figure in politics.

“There are still veteran Umno members who are supporting him. This might swing the votes in his favour,” he said.

Taib also said if it came down to a three-cornered fight, Dr Mahathir has a better chance as PAS is not strong in the area.

“There is BN but when it comes to PAS there is no chance as they are weak in Kedah,” he said.

Dr Mahathir was Kubang Pasu MP from 1974 to 2004. He was succeeded by Johari. In the 13th general election Johari defeated PAS candidate Mohd Jamal Nadir by 10,444 votes.

In GE13 there were 65,550 voters in Kubang Pasu. The racial breakdown of voters are Malay (86%), Chinese (9 %) and Indian (8%).

Johari is deputy defence minister and Dr Mahathir’s former political secretary.

Academy of Malay Studies Prof Dr Awang Azman Awang Pawi said Johari, who is a three term MP from 2004 to 2013, had only held deputy ministers posts.

“He was a deputy minister in the prime minister’s office, for agriculture and agro-based Industry and defence.

“That shows that the sentiments for him in Umno itself isn’t strong,” he said.

Awang said when Dr Mahathir and his successor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi were at loggerheads in the run-up to the 2008 polls, Johari was also responsible for keeping Dr Mahathir out of Kubang Pasu.

“Sentiments like this will work against Johari.

“Studies have also shown that PH’s popularity in Kedah has gone up since Dr Mahathir came up in the radar.

“I think Dr Mahathir has a good chance if he contest in Kubang Pasu, although he will have a three-cornered fight on his hands,” he said.

Three-cornered contest against PAS

Taib said the former PAS candidate, Jamal Nasir, is no longer active in the political scene.

“PAS members also don’t know where he went. They want to invite him for kenduri but he is not around.

“There is also hardly any support for PAS since Bersatu was formed.

“If Kedah PAS leaders were to organise a function, only about 100 members will attend and these are the hardcore supporters,” he said.

Noraini Saad, 37, who sells rojak at Kampung Lembah said Dr Mahathir also has a good chance to win because of the veterans in Kubang Pasu.

“I’m a BN supporter but my mother who is 67-years-old still supports Tun (Dr Mahathir). A lot of veterans still remember him (Dr Mahathir).

Hotel clerk Liza Razali, 30, said there is a lot sentimental support for Dr Mahathir as he was MP in the area for many years.

“The support is still there for Tun because everyone knows what he has done for the area, such as the education hub.

“But Johari also has a good chance so there might be a 50% chance of winning,” she added.