KUALA LUMPUR - Former premier and opposition leader Mahathir Mohamad will go ahead with his Wednesday (Feb 28) visit to Pekan, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak's parliamentary constituency, despite warnings from ruling party Umno that there may be trouble.
""People are waiting to see me, to welcome me but Umno is saying that there would be unrest. Who else would spark unrest if it's not them?" he told reporters at a press conference on Tuesday.
"Why are they so scared?" he added. "I'm not doing anything, I will only talk. I won't even be bringing weapons."
The visit is seen as a bold challenge to Mr Najib's grip on his home state Pahang ahead of the upcoming general election, especially since Tun Mahathir plans to visit rural farmers under the Felda scheme who have voted for the ruling coalition Barisan Nasional for generations.
In previous elections, opposition politicians have failed to even set foot on Felda plantations let alone hold rallies on the estates.
But recent mismanagement at the federal land agency and corruption scandals surrounding its investments have given the Pakatan Harapan (PH) opposition pact a chance to tap into these settlers' discontentment and chip away at the ruling coalition's traditional vote bank.
Pahang PH chairperson Fauzi Abdul Rahman said Dr Mahathir, who chairs Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, one of the four parties in PH, was invited to speak by Felda settlers in Chini, which is located in Pekan district.
"I think it's better if the programme can be cancelled," said Pekan Umno division committee member Abdul Rahim Yahya, as quoted by news site Malaysiakini. "There are going to be problems, there will be fights."
Mr Rahim reportedly said that he had been approached by "many youths in the area" and that they were planning to do "many things" should the 92-year-old Dr Mahathir proceed with the visit.
He added that locals were also dissatisfied with him for the empty promises he had made when he was a prime minister from 1981 to 2003.
The Pekan visit is also seen as a tit-for-tat move after Datuk Seri Najib visited Langkawi island in Dr Mahathir's home state of Kedah on Feb 17 and pledged RM1.3 billion (S$438 million) for infrastructure projects for the holiday destination.
Langkawi was first developed as a tourist draw under Dr Mahathir's administration and there is speculation he will run for a parliamentary seat there in the next general election due within months.
More stories on the Malaysia election at str.sg/malaysiaGE