The battle lines have been drawn and they are clear – it will be Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak on the BN side versus the grand old man of politics, who will be spearheading Pakatan Harapan.
The 14th general election could play out to be the tragic tale of an unpopular prime minister who refuses to step down and his 92-year-old mentor who is adamant that he goes.
If BN wins, Najib will remain the prime minister. If there is an upset, Dr Mahathir Mohamad will create history by being the only leader to become prime minister twice.
Not only that, he will be the oldest prime minister in Malaysian history at 92, and possibly in the world too.
According to the Guinness World Records, India’s Morarji Desai was the oldest person to be appointed the prime minister, at the age of 81.
Leading an opposition coalition, Desai prevailed in the 1977 elections, ending Indira Gandhi’s emergency rule. He served as prime minister until 1979, when the coalition broke apart.
Back to the present day. Never mind the voices of discontent within the opposition coalition. Mahathir himself has conceded, “It is difficult for some to accept me; not everybody will be happy with this decision.”
For a man who has seen and done it all, nothing in politics should surprise Mahathir. Indeed, no political decision can satisfy everybody.
But one thing is clear. For many Malaysians who are not affiliated to any political party and who yearn for a change of government, they must be satisfied and happy with the decisions made at the Harapan convention last weekend.
However, before you can become prime minister, you have to win a seat.
Hence, the all-important question – is there any guarantee that Mahathir will win a seat in GE14 to enable him to become PM again?
So far, three possible seats have been mentioned by Mahathir himself – Langkawi, Kubang Pasu and Putrajaya.
Speaking to reporters at the end of Bersatu’s first general assembly on Dec 30, the party chair said he was told that he had a good chance of winning in any of these seats.
I would personally rule out Putrajaya and Langkawi. Yes, Mahathir created Putrajaya, but that was more than 20 years ago, and people have short memories.
It is possible that the new and younger voters in Putrajaya would only know Mahathir by name, but never learn of the tremendous efforts and pains taken by the man to build the nation’s administrative capital.
Putrajaya incumbent Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor is the Federal Territories minister and Umno secretary-general. He is no pushover, and has been entrenched in Putrajaya for over a decade.
To top it all, Tengku Adnan is known as a man with resources, and plenty of it (including a huge war chest surely) and has never been defeated in Putrajaya.
I personally wouldn’t risk Mahathir in Putrajaya, even if he built the city.
The livelihoods of many in Langkawi, meanwhile, is dependent on catches from the seas and produce from their farmlands.
While it is true that Mahathir has transformed the scenic island into a major tourist destination, the Malay-majority electorate in the constituency are likely to feel more secure and safe being on the side of the government.
Those who had it good when Mahathir was the prime minister are unlikely to see Najib differently, because it is still BN, and still Umno. Their main priority is putting food on the table and ensuring that their children get an education. This is the reality on the ground.
As such, I wouldn’t risk fielding Mahathir in Langkawi either.
Kubang Pasu a better bet but…
Kubang Pasu is the safer bet for Mahathir, though not necessarily the safest. This is familiar territory, his old seat in his home state of Kedah.
Mahathir was the Kubang Pasu MP for 30 years, from 1974 until his retirement in 2004. Mohd Johari Baharom, now a deputy minister, was Mahathir’s replacement in Kubang Pasu and is still the incumbent MP.
Except for the 1974 general election when Mahathir was returned unopposed, BN had to face a PAS challenge for the seat from 1978 to 2013.
Do not underestimate PAS in Kubang Pasu. Their candidates garnered respectable returns in all general elections since 1978.
Mahathir only won by a majority of 8,245 votes in 1978, while Mohd Johari managed only a 7,060-vote majority in 2008, despite a sizable increase in the number of voters.
I assume Bersatu and Harapan strategists are aware of the odds of PAS fielding a candidate this time around, which will force a three-way contest in Kubang Pasu come GE14.
In GE13, PAS candidate Mohd Jamal Nasir obtained a respectable 22,890 votes against Mohd Johari’s 33,334 in a straight fight.
How will Mahathir fare in the event of a three-cornered tussle? Truth be told, there is no guarantee of victory for Mahathir, even in his Kubang Pasu backyard.
Here, I am reminded of a similar outing for another former “Tun” – the late Abdul Rahman Yakub (photo), former chief minister and governor of Sarawak.
In the infamous “Ming Court Affair” of 1987, Rahman formed the Maju Group comprising his own Permas party and Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak (PBDS) to revolt against his nephew and then chief minister Abdul Taib Mahmud.
In the state elections that year, Rahman lost in his former Kuala Rajang seat and his dream of a comeback as Sarawak CM was dashed. His Maju group disintegrated soon after.
Will that chapter in Sarawak’s gloomy political history repeat itself in GE14?
When all is said and done, there is still that lingering consolation for Mahathir and Pakatan Harapan supporters.
Their grand old captain Mahathir, Malaysia’s longest-serving prime minister of 22 years, and an internationally recognised and respected statesperson, is a man who will go out to win, not to lose.
FRANCIS PAUL SIAH heads the Movement for Change, Sarawak (MoCS).