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. In Part 2 of this series, we look at the former prime minister’s chances in Langkawi.
LANGKAWI, one of the top tourist destinations in Malaysia, may soon see the return of the man who put the legendary island on the world map.
Legend has it that the island, one of the 104 in the Andaman Sea, was cursed by a local woman named Mahsuri who was falsely accused of adultery and executed.
Curse or no, that did not stop Dr Mahathir from realising Langkawi’s potential as a tourist hub when he first visited in the 1950s. The jewel of Kedah then just had a single fishing village and several small farms.
PKR Kedah chief Dr Azman Ismail said Dr Mahathir has a special relationship with Langkawi ever since he set foot on the island in 1955.
“He was the first doctor to be stationed on the island at a government clinic. Dr Mahathir was the first one to see Langkawi and how barren it was then.
“It was his love for Langkawi that prompted him to develop the area after he became prime minister. The island is a special place for him” he told The Malaysian Insight.
Dr Mahathir got his medical training from Universiti Malaya in Singapore in 1953. The Pakatan Harapan and Bersatu chairman then started his housemanship at Penang General Hospital.
In 1954 he was sent to Alor Star General Hospital before he was posted to clinics in Langkawi, Jitra and Perlis.
But he didn’t forget Langkawi when he became prime minister in 1981.
Among the developments that Dr Mahathir brought to Langkawi was to declare the island as a duty free zone in 1987 and started the Langkawi Development Board.
Dr Mahathir built the Kuah jetty and the Langkawi international airport in 1988.
He continued his vision to develop Langkawi by mooting the International Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition (Lima) in 1991, Le Tour De Langkawi in 1996 and the Royal Langkawi International Regatta in 2003.
A total of 2,326,779 international and domestic tourists visited Langkawi in 2017.
Old deeds go a long way
Kampung Padang Lalang resident Zainol Saad, 74, said because of Dr Mahathir, islanders could travel daily by ferry to Kuala Kedah in the 1980s.
“Before Dr Mahathir came there was only one wooden boat that left daily to the mainland at 8am and went back the next day.
“After Dr Mahathir came back in the 1980s, he built the Kuah jetty and brought in 15 ferries to service the islanders.
“He was the one who also built roads, brought in tourism, hospitals and lighted up the area.
“I have been an Umno supporter since 1964 and I still am, but I cannot forget what he had done for us,” he said.
Zainol he could see how different Langkawi was before Merdeka and when Dr Mahathir came to the island.
Dr Azman said Dr Mahathir knows all the senior citizens and they also remember him well.
“It will be a good choice for him to pick Langkawi. Similarly Putrajaya and Kubang Pasu also has long history and special relationship with him.
“This constituency might be difficult to conquer because the island people have their own ways and they want a candidate from the area.
“But even though he is not from here he understands the needs and culture of the islanders.
“Dr Mahathir is Langkawi and Langkawi is Dr Mahathir,” he said.
Dr Azman also said that the residents won’t he swayed by any party that come offering gifts during the election period.
“They will not sell their souls that easily. It might happen in some other places, but not here.”
Langkawi another BN stronghold
While local sentiments may be strong, it is still an uphill battle to face BN, which has held the parliamentary seat for years, said the PKR leader.
“For the first time in the history of Malaysia and the election, Langkawi can fall to an opposition figure.”
Dr Azman said Dr Mahathir has a good chance if he goes up against current Langkawi MP Nawawi Ahmad.
“Nawawi is a decent politician and a good MP, but Dr Mahathir and Langkawi cannot be separated because he was the one who developed the area.
“The youth are also behind him because they feel that the current government has mismanaged Malaysia and its policies are not favouring the youths,” he said.
But Dr Azman said it’s going to be difficult if there is a three-cornered fight because PAS joins the fray.
“It is not easy if PAS comes in, but our chances are improving daily. If Dr Mahathir contests, I think he can successfully navigate himself through a three-cornered fight,” he said.
In the 13th general election Nawawi won by a majority of 21,407 votes, defeating PKR candidate Ahmad Abdullah who got 9,446 votes and independent candidate Marina Hussien who got 180 votes.
They are 37,536 voters in Langkaw with 91% being Malay, Chinese (7%) and Indians (2%).
Dr Azman said everything that Langkawi is now is because of Dr Mahathir’s efforts and ideas in developing the isolated place to a major tourist hub.
However, Langkawi Umno Youth chief Ahmad Marzuki Shariat said Dr Mahathir should just rest or do some charity work instead of coming back to politics.
“He is already old and what we need are more young forward-thinking youths that have fresh views in this age of globalisation.
“Its not suitable if he wants to contest and become an elected representative.
“We all still respect Tun but we can’t accept the fact that he has joined Pakatan Harapan,” he said.
Ahmad also said that if there is a three-cornered fight BN will win as the opposition is weak.
“They are like an empty tin can that makes a lot of noise,” he said.
Academy of Malay Studies Prof Dr Awang Azman Awang Pawi said Langkawi is sure win for Dr Mahathir because he is synonymous with the island.
“Without him, nobody outside of Kedah and the history books would remember this island.
“And it is because of him that Langkawi is a well-known destination locally and internationally.
“His contribution to Langkawi is not just from a district point of view, as the popularity of Langkawi boosted Kedah’s revenue (tourism), and internationally with events such as the Langkawi International Maritime and Airspace show every year,” he said.
What the Langkawi migrants say
Taxi driver Shamsul MD Salleh, 40 who migrated to the island from Kuala Kedah 15 years ago, said if Dr Mahathir contests he will be the choice of the people.
“Dr Mahathir is well-liked here and the people are not happy with the current government.
“The economy has dropped and business has dipped since two years ago. Previously there was not enough taxis to service the tourists and locals, but now I get less than five trips a day.
“Even if he doesn’t contest, the opposition has a good chance to win because the people are in the mood to push Barisan Nasional out,” he said.
Padang Masirat Batik shop owner Aliff Solleh, 71, who migrated from Kuala Lumpur to Langkawi 27 years ago fears that Dr Mahathir’s chances in Langkawi will be affected if a party comes dishing out goodies.
“I hope he doesn’t contest here because some party might give out rice and sweets to the islanders and swing their vote.
“I don’t support any party but if Tun contests here, he has my full support,” he said.
Pantai Cenang souvenir shop salesgirl Izzati Rahim, 23 said Dr Mahathir has the support of the youth.
“There are a lot of youth who support him because they don’t like BN.
“Dr Mahathir has worked hard to build Langkawi and now they (the state government) are building a condominium on a historical site in Taman Lagenda.
“We can’t condone this,” she said.