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Malaysian PM Mahathir unshakeable in traditional stronghold

Date: 25 Nov 1999
Time: 19:22:18


Malaysian PM Mahathir unshakeable in traditional stronghold

KUBANG PASU, Malaysia, Nov 25 (AFP) - Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad seems unshakeable in his parliamentary constituency even though his rival thinks it will be a close fight in upcoming polls.

"Four days before the general elections, I feel like Lennox Lewis," declared Subky Latif of the opposition Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), who is taking on Mahathir in northern Kedah state.

Subky, a journalist, said he had the same level of confidence of British fighter Lewis, who earlier this month lifted the undisputed heavyweight boxing title in a closely fought bout over Evander Holyfield.

Speaking to AFP while campaigning door-to-door in the Kubang Pasu parliamentary constituency, Subky, 59, said of his chances: "We started at a very low level but now we are slowly catching up.

"I think we have a chance finally," said the hard-hitting writer for the PAS organ, Harakah, using a walking stick because of a gout infection.

Subky likened himself to a "guided missile" and claimed he was the flagbearer of not only PAS but Mahathir's National Front coalition and the nation as a whole.

"You see there are lots of people out there who are suffering in silence and dare not say openly that Mahathir must go. So I am doing a service to those who are tired of his leadership," he said.

Analysts say Mahathir, 73, who is contesting the seat for a seventh straight term, should win easily in the straight fight for the Malay-dominated constituency of 47,456 voters -- mostly rice farmers and orchard holders.

Mahathir won the seat with a 17,000 majority in the last elections in 1995.

"Going by the support we are getting, we are confident that Datuk Seri (honorific) Dr Mahathir will increase his majority this time," said Saad Hashim, executive secretary of the National Front's Kubang Pasu division.

He dismissed claims by PAS that hundreds of party workers from Mahathir's United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) in Kubang Pasu had switched camps due to a split over the choice of candidates for the Kedah state assembly.

UMNO is the lynchpin of the National Front coalition.

An advance copy of Friday's edition of Harakah reported that 14 National Front election operations rooms in Mahathir's constituency have been closed because of the crossover.

"This is baseless. In fact, we are receiving many new members from PAS but we are not publicising it," Saad said.

PAS officials noted that Mahathir had taken extra pains in this election to ensure a well-oiled party machinery and smooth campaigning in his constituency, where portraits of the prime minister hang in every nook and corner.

Mahathir's initial political career took a jolt in 1969 when he lost to a former PAS president in Kubang Pasu. He regained the seat in 1974 and never looked back.

With age catching up, the current election could be Mahathir's last and he has vowed to maintain the National Front's two-thirds majority in parliament.

PAS has plastered at vantage points in Kubang Pasu pictures of ousted deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim sporting a black eye.

Anwar was beaten in police custody in September last year after he led a mass demonstration against Mahathir, who had sacked him on the grounds of sexual misconduct.

Kedah is among several northern ethnic Malay states which PAS is trying to wrest from UMNO after the Islamic party made a breakthrough and won control of Kelantan state in 1990.

PAS won no parliamentary seat in Kedah in the 1995 election and captured only two seats in the state legislative assembly.

Last changed: November 25, 1999