Dr Mahathir puts his popularity to the test in Slim by-election

Zainal Epi, MMO

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad wasted no time in testing his credibility and popularity by fielding a candidate from his new party for the Slim by-election.

The former prime minister has set his sights on Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) for closing his other political options.

He set up Bersatu in 2016 and joined with DAP, PKR and Parti Amanah Negara (Amanah) to end the 60-year rule of the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition two years ago but has since lost his membership in the party.

Last Monday, he formed a new Malay-based party named Pejuang to compete against the existing and established Malay parties including Bersatu, PAS, and Umno on the ruling side as well as Opposition parties PKR and Amanah.

With the stated mission of fighting corruption and kleptocracy, he sent his party into the Slim by-election that former allies DAP, PKR and Amanah were already sitting out.

The Slim state seat by-election is where he wants to see how his party will fare in a Malay-majority, semi-urban seat.

But most importantly, he probably wants to know whether his popularity and credibility were intact or have declined since his last political moves.

With a 74.7-per cent Malay majority from the 23,000 or so voters in Slim, religious knowledge and traits of the candidates are expected to be what parties will seek to highlight ahead of the August 29 poll.

Chinese voters make up the 10.4 per cent that is expected to support Dr Mahathir’s party to protest the corruption charges against DAP leader Lim Guan Ang and his wife.

Indians comprise 13 per cent of voters but they may not vote for Pejuang as most are PKR supporters who are still upset with Dr Mahathir for not handing over the PM’s post to Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, or they may vote for BN.

Slim state seat has 13 polling stations and besides the small town where Chinese voters dominate, the rest are in various villages and two Felda schemes – Behrang and Besout.

Most Malay voters are in Felda Behrang and Besout, which are Umno strongholds that helped BN win the seat over four terms.

It is under the Tanjung Malim parliament seat won by PKR in last general election. Bersatu won the other state seat, Behrang.

Religious issue may take centre stage in the campaign as the rival parties are fielding candidates who are graduates of Islamic subjects from Universiti Islam Antarabangsa (UIA).

BN is fielding 43-year-old Mohd Zaidi Aziz who studied Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Human Sciences while Pejuang is fielding 28-year-old law graduate Amir Khusyairi Mohamad Tanusi who is fluent in Arabic.