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Can Mahathir pull another rabbit from his hat at GE15?

The former prime minister is credited with propelling Pakatan Harapan to victory at the last polls, but it remains to be seen if he can do it again with his latest alliance, Gerakan Tanah Air.

Nur Hasliza Mohd Salleh
2 minute read
Former prime minister and Pejuang chairman Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
Former prime minister and Pejuang chairman Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Last week, former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad announced the formation of a new Malay movement to take on his one-time party Umno, putting to rest speculation about the appearance of yet another alliance in the country's crowded political arena.

Now, the question is whether Mahathir himself still has what it takes to pull off a repeat of his coalition's unprecedented success at the 2018 general election. 

Mahathir had led Pakatan Harapan (PH) to a stunning victory over Barisan Nasional (BN), toppling more than six decades of rule by the Umno-led coalition and becoming, at the age of 92, the world's oldest head of government and Malaysian prime minister for the second time. 

He was largely credited with PH's success and with swinging the crucial Malay vote towards the opposition pact. 

But four years later, analysts appear reserved about the odds of history repeating itself at the 15th general election (GE15). 

So far, the Gerakan Tanah Air movement has seen the participation of four Malay-based parties: Putra, Berjasa, Iman and Mahathir's own Pejuang. 

In announcing the alliance on Aug 4, Mahathir had said that it would also include academics, NGOs and professionals. 

Political analyst Azmil Tayeb however said the movement was mostly rhetorical, describing it as an effort to appear still relevant among the Malay voters. 

Azmil, of Universiti Sains Malaysia, also said that the political groups that have joined Gerakan Tanah Air so far do not have a good track record in elections. 

On its stated goal of challenging Umno on the political stage, he said it would be difficult to defeat the BN lynchpin. 

"But it could contest more competitively in states like Kedah, Terengganu and Kelantan," he added when contacted by MalaysiaNow. 

Mahathir had said that the movement would contest 120 seats at GE15, targeting areas in the peninsula which it was confident of winning. 

But Azmil said the bigger point of concern was the narrative of Gerakan Tanah Air which only involves Malay members. 
Adding that this would distance the pact from the non-Malay voters, he said race-based politics was only effective among some segments of the Malay electorate. 

"Gerakan Tanah Air will have to challenge Umno, PAS and Bersatu which are more established and well known," he added. 

"In other words, it is a waste of effort." 

Political analyst James Chin said Mahathir might be able to rally some personal support due to his brand name. 

But he said such support could not be passed on to Pejuang just yet. 

Speaking to MalaysiaNow, he said it lacked a clear infrastructure which could turn it into a national party. 

"Increasingly, people are realising that the big boys in town are going to swallow up everybody else," Chin, of Australia's University of Tasmania, added. 

"It's just too small and too insignificant to bring about change at GE15." 

He also said that Pejuang possessed no key figures other than Mahathir and his son, Mukhriz. 

"There is no way that Pejuang has any chance," he said. 

"Mahathir is doing this just to remain relevant, and to remind his Malay supporters that he is still very much a Malay nationalist. That's all."