KUALA LUMPUR. Tun Dr Mahathir Muhammad deliver his speech during Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia first Anuual General Assembly at Ideal Convention Center, Shah Alam on 30 Disember 2017. MALAYMAIL/Azneal Ishak.

GEORGE TOWN – Pakatan Harapan’s choice of Dr Mahathir Mohamad for prime minister is realistic and sensible, because of the elder statesman’s popularity in the rural areas, says an academic.

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s Institute of Ethnic Studies director Shamsul Amri Baharuddin said Mahathir was key to the opposition getting the rural vote, thus filling the void in the opposition coalition since PAS decided to break ties with its former partners, DAP and PKR.

Yesterday, PH announced that Mahathir would be prime minister if the opposition wins in the next general election (GE14), with PKR president Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail as his deputy.

“It is a pragmatic decision. They are targetting rural Malay voters. PPBM is like Umno in Barisan Nasional (BN), DAP is MCA, while PKR is the rest in BN.

“Amanah will target urban Malay seats and some rural seats where they won in 2013 on a PAS ticket. After PAS left Pakatan Rakyat, the opposition lost nearly all support in rural areas,” Shamsul told FMT referring to the previous opposition coalition which came to an end in June 2015.

“Mahathir’s larger than life role is much sought after now that PAS is gone.”

However, Shamsul said Mahathir, despite doing very well as a prime minister for 22 years, was not free from problems and stigmas. He added that Mahathir’s return to active politics could go either way, too.

“He had his time and did very well during his tenure. But now the problems and stigmas related to his administration are being exposed and discussed today.

“It is a bit like Michael Schumacher the seven-time Formula One world champion. He retired. Then he made a comeback.

“Then he failed to win even a single race let alone a world championship. He is now in semi-coma after a skiing accident,” Shamsul said.

He said even jailed ex-opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s support for Mahathir was a strategic and smart move, as Anwar knows Mahathir’s political prowess and would stomach him for the time being.

“Despite how much Anwar and his family hates Mahathir, he is smart enough to know what the elder statesman is capable of.

“But he knows Mahathir knows the ‘shiatsu’ of Malay politics. He is pressing the right pressure points.

“Anwar has no choice. PKR does not have real traction in rural areas with personalities like Tian Chua and R Sivarasa. They have challenged the Sultan of Selangor. So, their record is not good with the Malays,” Shamsul said.

Mahathir’s major redelineation exercise

As for the seat allocation bias towards Mahathir’s PPBM, Shamsul said Mahathir was the “expert” when it came to allocation of seats.

He said after the heavy losses during the 1999 general election, where Umno lost to PAS in the east coast, Mahathir went on a major redelineation exercise nationwide.

Shamsul said the announced seat allocation by PH was likely decided based on the latest round of redrawing of electoral boundaries in the past few months.

“As a result, Pak Lah (former prime minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi) reaped the benefits with a record victory, obtaining the highest percentage of seats ever for BN,” he said.

Yesterday, PH also announced the seat distribution for the peninsular parliamentary seats as follows: PPBM getting 52, PKR (51), DAP (35) and Amanah (27).

The coalition made it clear that Mahathir would serve as “interim prime minister”, saying it would pursue all legal avenues to free Anwar from prison with the aim of eventually making him the country’s eighth prime minister.