GEORGE TOWN • Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak kicked off a charm offensive in the northern states yesterday with a visit to Permatang Pauh - the stronghold constituency of jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim - and a package of incentives for the Northern Corridor Economic Region (NCER).
Datuk Seri Najib, on a one-day visit to the opposition-governed state of Penang, hosted a feast for 21,380 people in Permatang Pauh that made it into Malaysia's Book Of Records for having the most number of people gathered for a meal while sitting cross-legged on the ground, reported The Star.
Permatang Pauh is currently helmed by Anwar's wife and president of Parti Keadilan Rakyat, Datuk Seri Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, who stepped in to take over the seat for her husband in 1999, 2004, 2008 and 2015, when he was jailed and disqualified from contesting in elections. Anwar held the seat as an Umno politician from 1982 to 1999, before he was sacked as deputy prime minister and formed his opposition party.
With Malaysia's next election due to be held by August next year, but widely anticipated to take place in the coming months, Mr Najib made clear his party's intention to wrest Penang from the opposition. He told the crowd yesterday that Permatang Pauh had missed out on development since 1999, reported the Malay Mail Online.
The Prime Minister said Permatang Pauh was previously ruling coalition Barisan Nasional's stronghold since 1969, but it changed hands in 1999.
"Before that, Umno only lost the seat once in 1978, but after 1999, it is no longer under Barisan Nasional," he said in his speech.
"It looks as if time had stood still in Permatang Pauh. There are not many changes here," he said.
"What is the MP doing here? Do you see the MP here?
"We don't want merely a symbol for an MP, we want someone who can serve the people," he said, referring to Dr Wan Azizah.
Later that day, Mr Najib launched the NCER Development Blueprint, a plan to transform Perak, Penang, Kedah and Perlis into a world-class economic region with an economy worth RM300 billion (S$95 billion) by 2025.
Kedah, Perak and Perlis are governed by Barisan Nasional, but Kedah and Perak could see voters shift allegiances in the next election due to the emergence of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, led by former Umno strongman and new opposition leader Tun Mahathir Mohamad.
Mr Najib said the four states would "realise a total accumulated investment" of RM146.5 billion by 2025, and that there would be special tax incentives for companies in the region that engaged in manufacturing, agriculture, bio-industries and the services sector, reported news agency Bernama.
A day earlier in Putrajaya, Mr Najib said the government had handed out RM15 billion in projects under the 1Malaysia People's Housing Programme to firms owned by the bumiputera, the majority ethnic group whose votes will determine the outcome of the next polls.