No election mood in the air: Malaysian columnist

Malaysian voters suffering from political fatigue see little difference in candidates from various parties

The man he sacked almost 20 years ago is still the albatross around Dr Mahathir Mohamad's neck.

In an interview with Sin Chew Daily that ran over three full pages, the former premier wobbled on whether he should have cut short Anwar Ibrahim's ambition to become prime minister.

What Dr Mahathir said in the interview was not new. But he is now Pakatan Harapan's prime minister nominee and that changes the flavour and context of everything, especially on the touchy subject of Anwar.

In revisiting the sacking of Anwar, he said that, in hindsight, he might not have done it from the political standpoint but he had followed the law to act against Anwar.

There seemed to be a rare element of regret there until he pinned the blame on the police and it was another round of, here we go again - it is always someone else who is to blame and one of his critics had labelled him "storyteller of the year".

Dr Mahathir expressed confidence that the Chinese would support Pakatan even with him as the leader and assured them he would not return to Umno even if Prime Minister Najib Razak was no longer there. He must have been aware that Pakatan's decision to make him their prime minister candidate has failed to impress the Chinese voters. The interview is unlikely to change anything because the majority of Chinese voters seem set on supporting the Democratic Action Party (DAP) with or without Dr Mahathir up there.

Dr Mahathir's second bid at the Putrajaya job has been proceeding in a rather inconclusive way even though it is only a month or so more before the big day. He has not really covered the Malay ground as much as some in Pakatan would have liked him to.

During a Pakatan retreat a few months ago, one of the participants raised eyebrows when he asked Dr Mahathir to cut back on his appearances with the DAP father-and-son, the implication being that Malays do not like the two DAP leaders. The participant told him to move around in Malay areas so that Malay voters will get acquainted with Parti Pribumi.

By now, any prime minister aspirant should be storming around the country, but Dr Mahathir has yet to step foot in Sabah or Sarawak. He will be unable to replicate what Anwar did in 2013, scheduling up to five stops a night during the campaign.

Dr Mahathir was unwell after a day-long programme in Kelantan, and he failed to make it to Penang the next day for the 10th anniversary of the 2008 tsunami.

About a week after Mr Najib flew into Langkawi promising RM1.3 billion (S$440 million) in expansion allocation, Dr Mahathir made a revenge visit to Pahang. It was quite uneventful.

"They accused us of sabotage and preventing people from attending, that is not true. Pahang is the Prime Minister's home state. You cannot slam Mr Najib every day and expect to be welcomed here," said Temerloh Umno division chief Sharkar Shamsudin.


A few days ago, there was a rumour that Dr Mahathir may back off from contesting in Langkawi and let his son, Mr Mukhriz Mahathir, take over the seat. It was all nonsense. Dr Mahathir may be 92 and of delicate health, but his crusade against Mr Najib has been personal and he has reached a point of no return.

He is also not senile as suggested by some people who have been left agog by the way he has absolved himself of any blame for events that happened during his time in power. All the marbles are still up there and it will be a fight to the end.

This is supposed to be a do-or-die duel for both sides, yet there is hardly what one might call an election mood in the air. Everyone seems so jaded about politics.

For instance, Mr Rafizi Ramli's survey suggesting that Pakatan was just a few seats short of forming the next government failed to excite even his own Pakatan circles.

The findings of his Invoke study were sensational to say the least. He claimed Pakatan would win 104 parliamentary seats and that Kedah, Perak and Johor would fall.

Kelantan, he said, would fall to Umno while there would be hung assemblies in Negri Sembilan and Melaka. A few big names would tumble, including Mr Khairy Jamaluddin and Mr Hishammuddin Hussein.

But the most sensational of all was his claim that Parti Islam SeMalaysia would end up with a big fat egg - zero seats.

There was repeated clapping in the audience over the "good news" when he presented his findings, but the applause did not continue beyond his presentation that day.

"My friends shared it on our chat groups, but none of us talked about it. Nobody took it seriously because it was so unrealistic," said a PKR politician from Selangor.

The other thing is the political fatigue that refuses to go away. Votershad invested so much hope in Pakatan after 2013 and they feel let down by what they see. Many think both sides are the same.

"We should never take voters for granted. I also believe that the opinion and preferences of voters change according to the time and issue. It is important for a candidate and party to come with a message of what you stand for, what you intend to do and what you can bring to them," said Labis MP Chua Tee Yong.

Moreover, with Dr Mahathir as Pakatan's prime minister nominee, it is like choosing between Umno and Umno.

"You offer Mahathir and Wan Azizah (Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail). You expect our young supporters to get excited?" said the above Selangor politician.


This article was edited for length.