LANGKAWI - Former Malaysian premier Tun Mahathir Mohamad has filed his nomination to contest in Langkawi, setting up the biggest political showdown against his successor Prime Minister Najib Razak in the May 9 polls.
He officially submitted his papers on Saturday (April 28) to run as a parliamentary candidate in the federal constituency under the banner of the four-party opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan (PH), for whom he is the chairman and prime minister candidate.
The mainly-Malay constituency known as the Jewel of Kedah comprises Langkawi and more than 100 smaller islands.
In response to a query by The Straits Times if he is confident of winning in Langkawi, he said: "I am feeling okay, I'm alright. Yes, of course we are confident."
Dr Mahathir's nomination marks the first in Malaysia's history that a current and former heads of government are contesting in the same election. And should the 92-year-old win, he will become the world's oldest prime minister.
Several hundred supporters marched through the main town of Kuah to escort the Kedah-born "father of Langkawi" to the district office, waving posters bearing photographs of candidates and chanting "Reformasi" and "Hidup Tun" or Long Live Tun.
Several hundred supporters from rivals Barisan Nasional (BN) ruling coalition and Islamist party, Parti SeIslam Malaysia (PAS), also thronged the Langkawi District and Land Office to support their candidates.
Dressed in a fiery red baju Melayu, the colour of his Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM), Dr Mahathir occasionally waved and smiled warmly. Together with him were Mr Johari Bulat and Mr Firdaus Ahmad, state-seat candidates for Ayer Hangat and Kuah respectively.
The candidates now have 11 days to campaign before voting day.
Dr Mahathir is facing a three-cornered fight against BN's incumbent MP Nawawi Ahmad and Langkawi PAS chief Zubir Ahmad.
What makes Langkawi a particularly exciting battleground to watch is the very public tussle between the country's top Goliaths.
On his two strong contenders, Mr Zubir from PAS told The Straits Times: "In the political climate today, everyone has an equal chance and whoever who can accelerate at the last minute will win."
Langkawi is a BN's stronghold and has never fallen into the hands of the opposition. But Dr Mahathir is a well-loved and highly-respected figure there, credited for transforming the backwater island into a popular tourist destination.
To maintain a firm grip on voters, Mr Najib rolled out a RM1.315 billion (S$445 million) development budget earlier this year for Langkawi and also warned residents against voting on an individual's popularity.
In the latest drama, Dr Mahathir claimed on Friday (April 27) that the jet he had boarded for a flight to the island had been sabotaged.
He said that just before takeoff, the pilot announced that the plane's tyres had been damaged and immediate repairs could not be made.
Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai has said that the Department of Civil Aviation had been ordered to investigate.
In Bagan Datuk, Perak, Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi told reporters: " I have instructed police not to take any side. we must ensure the safety of all, and to ensure no sabotage against any candidate. I sympathise with what Dr M has experienced, I hope it was not done by certain parties to block him from contesting. I hope what he claimed was not the reality."