All-out bid by leaders for votes in tight Malaysia polls

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak of the ruling coalition party Barisan Nasional shakes hands with his supporters during a campaign event in Pekan, Pahang on May 6, 2018.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak of the ruling coalition party Barisan Nasional shakes hands with his supporters during a campaign event in Pekan, Pahang on May 6, 2018. PHOTO: AFP

Najib, Mahathir pull out all the stops to boost support as campaign enters final stretch

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and his rival, former premier turned opposition chief Mahathir Mohamad, made an all-out effort over the weekend to boost support in the country's most keenly fought election as the campaign enters its final stretch.

Datuk Seri Najib, who heads the ruling coalition Barisan Nasional (BN), travelled across three wards in Penang and Perak on Saturday before returning to his seat in Pahang yesterday, and flying to Sabah.

He will be in the easternmost state today to shore up BN support against the new Warisan party led by former Umno vice-president Shafie Apdal.

Mr Najib and BN's campaigning have rested on showing how his nine-year administration has improved people's lives and will continue to do so. In Kepala Batas, the seat held by predecessor Abdullah Badawi, he approved RM40 million (S$13.5 million) in development projects that include building health clinics and a police station.

In Pekan, Mr Najib visited the construction site of a RM12.3 million water retention pond in Chini that will supply treated water to Malay farmers in schemes run by land development agency Felda.

BN will continue to champion the cause of Felda settlers, he said, warning residents that opposition parties Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) and Democratic Action Party would not bother about their needs.

The rural Malay vote, which has historically sided with BN and carries more weight due to how electoral boundaries are drawn, is crucial to the election outcome. Support for BN among Felda seats has slid in recent polls and BN leaders fear this could slide further with Tun Dr Mahathir at the helm of opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan (PH), which is using the PKR logo.

Meanwhile, Dr Mahathir, who has garnered support from former Umno veterans like Tun Daim Zainuddin and Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz in his bid to topple Mr Najib, travelled to Kedah, Kelantan and back to the Kuala Lumpur area, where he addressed thousands at a rally. Today, he will travel to Langkawi, where he is contesting.

In Kedah, he visited the grave of former Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) president Fadzil Noor, and wanted to visit the grave of former PAS leader Nik Aziz Nik Mat in Kelantan on Sunday but was prevented from doing so by Datuk Nik Aziz's family. Winning over PAS supporters is key to PH's bid for federal power.

But PAS, which is contesting 158 seats, has a loyal following and is set to split the anti-government vote.

Leader Hadi Awang told a rally in Wakaf Bharu, Kelantan, last night his was the only party that had run a clean ship. "BN has been in power 63 years, PH leaders were in power and made Malaysia a corporate state. We are the third camp," he said. "The capitalist way has failed, we must return to the Islamic way."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 07, 2018, with the headline 'All-out bid by leaders for votes in tight Malaysia polls'. Print Edition | Subscribe