Published on: Friday, May 10, 2013
Kuala Lumpur: Election 2013 has laid bare the declining influence of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad as a political force, an analysis of where and how he campaigned showed.
The former Prime Minister campaigned incessantly but Barisan Nasional (BN) candidates whom he backed or shared his ideals – such as the controversial Zulkifli Noordin and Ibrahim Ali – all lost.
In Kedah – where his son Mukhriz is now Mentri Besar on the back of a BN victory – local politicians and observers have pointed out that voters gave PAS the boot because of poor governance by the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) party.
Brand Mahathir did not win Kedah for BN, but it was rather a case of PAS losing the state, one senior Umno politician in Kedah said.
Dr Mahathir’s attempt at painting the battle for Gelang Patah in Johor as a Malay versus Chinese battle also failed miserably.
Many analysts and BN politicians have said that his incessant playing of the race card for the Election 2013 campaign saw support for him deplete.
“He still has his niche group of supporters in the Malays, they wouldn’t simply demonise leaders whom they feel have been there for them long enough.
“But yes… at times, it may be true that his time is over.
What he says, how he says it, may not have traction among the younger generation, in the urban areas. But let us not forget – he is not the PM of the day,” Sabah Umno secretary Datuk Abdul Rahman Dahlan said.
But other leaders were not so kind, believing the 87-year-old Dr Mahathir should finally enjoy his retirement and stay out of current day politics where they say he is fast growing irrelevant.
They said that in the age of social media politics, Dr Mahathir’s influence is waning quickly as Malaysians prefer the more liberal, moderate and inclusive brand of politics brought by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.
Dr Mahathir’s strong support base among the traditional, older Malay voters would likely be insufficient to win the votes for Barisan Nasional (BN) again.
They said that it would be the fast-growing urban, middle-class and young voters who will soon form a larger part of the electorate.
And going by the vote trend of Election 2013, it is this key demographic that BN must win over if it wants to return with an even stronger mandate in the next general election.
“I hope by looking at the analysis of the elections, he will realise that his time is over,” said Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) Chief Executive Wan Saiful Wan Jan.
“He should leave the administration of this country to the new generation of politicians led by Najib.
“He has had his time and he has done tremendous things but his day in politics is over. Before he destroys his legacy, perhaps it is time to leave gracefully,” he added.
Election 2013 saw Dr Mahathir backing right-wing Muslim hardliners like Perkasa President Datuk Ibrahim Ali and vice-President Datuk Zulkifli Noordin but neither emerged victor in their contest.
Shah Alam Umno division chief Datuk Ahmad Nawawi M. Zin admitted that if Dr Mahathir had not campaigned in Shah Alam, BN may have earned more votes.
Rafidah agreed that the use of racism to win support should be rejected.”On the whole, in the cities, I feel Dr Mahathir’s influence is no longer relevant as the issues he brings and his opinions do not really suit with the current generation, especially with his backing of Perkasa.
“Perhaps BN has to review this,” he said.
While his foes in Pakatan Rakyat (PR) made sure their leaders worked hard to eschew racism while on the hustings, it was race that dominated nearly all of Dr Mahathir’s speeches over the stretch of the 15-day campaign period.
He repeatedly singled out his long-time parliamentary foe Lim Kit Siang for leaving his seat in Ipoh Timor to contest the Chinese-majority Gelang Patah seat in Johor, calling the DAP veteran an “extremist racist” for allegedly attempting to sway the Chinese to hate the Malays.
“I will say it out as vocal as possible. Lim Kit Siang is a racist.
Lim Kit Siang is a racist. Lim Kit Siang is an extremist racist,” he had said during a ceramah in Shah Alam three days before polling day.
Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz, a veteran Umno leader who served under Dr Mahathir’s administration agreed that the use of racism to win support should be rejected.
Without singling out her ex-boss, the outspoken former Wanita Umno Chief said that racial diversity should be wielded as a strength and not a weapon to divide and rule.
“Gone are the days when we can become champions of a certain race.
I never subscribe to it. We are Malaysians first and foremost.
“I am a Malaysian who happens to be Malay… but it is our Malaysian-ness that we carry proudly when we are out there,” she said.
Merdeka Center for Opinion Research director Ibrahim Suffian, however, noted that while Dr Mahathir’s methods had been rejected by the urban and middle-class electorate, the leader still commands a huge following among Umno’s traditional support base in rural, Malay Malaysia.
“Voters are more discerning. They reject this brand of ethnic chauvinism,” he observed.
But Ibrahim said Dr Mahathir still has much influence within Umno, the BN lynchpin, a point that fellow political analyst Wan Saiful agreed with.
Wan Saiful insisted that Dr Mahathir should bow out from the political scene and make a graceful exit, saying this was necessary for the former Prime Minister to ensure his legacy as Malaysia’s ‘father of modernisation” is not marred by mistakes he may make today.
“Najib is the PM of today and Dr Mahathir is of yesterday.
Najib has sensed the need to move into a different direction and this is what he is doing,” he said.
Agreeing, Ibrahim reminded of the vast changes in the flow of information in today’s political landscape, saying this had largely affected the results of Election 2013 and Dr Mahathir’s influence.
“There is that challenge because Dr Mahathir is used to running a country when there was no social media and the population was more easily controlled and was smaller.
“Today, you have a much younger generation who live in times when information is free-flowing.
The environment has changed and with it, many of our leaders must change too,” he said.