LANGKAWI (April 16): Unlike the usual bustling mood seen during the peak tourist season, Jalan Pantai Cenang, the nerve centre of the resort island, had a laidback air on Monday as a handful of tourists and traders went about their business.
“Pantai Cenang is often crowded and busy with tourists from everywhere but Lankawi seems to have lost its shine over the years,” says Susana Shaari, who runs an eatery there.
“Tourists rather go to Bali or Phuket which are more organised and well-planned than here,” she says.
“Look at the potholes and the haphazard development here. Our business has not been good for many years. Even local tourists are thrifty these days,” says Susana, 36.
She had moved to Langkawi four years ago with her husband from Sungai Petani in mainland Kedah to start a new life here. Now she is wondering if they made a mistake.
“We find it difficult to pay our rent some times. Our neighbours and relatives in Langkawi said life was good in the past, especially during Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s time as the Prime Minister because there were international promotions, and events in Langkawi which drew people here all the time,” she added.
Although it was before her move to the island, she hopes to see the glory of those days return if Mahathir wins the Langkawi Parliamentary seat. Along with that must come control of Putrajaya by the Opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan.
“Mahathir has a very high chance of winning here. People here might show they are Umno members or supporters but in their hearts, they have changed to Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia. Everyone knows how much Mahathir did for the island then. Why everyone knows Langkawi today is because of him. He is well-loved here. You will see the support for him on polling day,” she said.
After widespread speculation, Mahathir was finally announced as the candidate for the Parliament seat at a Pakatan Harapan ceramah in Padang Mat Sirat attended by about 2,000 people on Sunday night.
To add drama to the announcement, PKR president Datuk Seri Wan Azizah Wan Ibrahim read out a poem that spoke of Mahathir’s love for the island and how he held a sentimental spot for it in his heart.
Mahathir, 93, will be contesting Langkawi for the first time after retiring from politics in 2004 and having held the Kubang Pasu Parliamentary seat for seven terms since its creation in 1974 till 2004.
He is expected to face one-term incumbent Datuk Nawawi Ahmad who won with a majority of 11,861 votes against PKR’s Ahmad Abdullah in 2013.
But Mahathir’s legacy in Langkawi is strong as locals remember his efforts to transform its agriculture-based economy into a tourism hub by giving it a free port status in 1987, and pumping in investments for infrastructure, entrepreneurship and development.
The coalition hopes that Kedah would swing to it since Mahathir is standing in Langkawi, and that his candidacy would bode well for Perlis, Penang and Perak, and for the whole country.
The political talk held in an open field was attended by a cross section of young and old locals. They clapped and responded intermittently to the issues raised by the speakers, including the high cost of living, lack of subsidies and problems at the 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) state investment fund. They listened intently to the speeches.
A taxi driver who has lived in Air Hangat all his life, said Mahathir has strong support among the youths in Langkawi because they are aware of the issues surrounding Umno because they have access to the Internet.
“People are angry that money has gone missing. They know what is happening in the political scene as everyone talks about it. Most of us are related or know each other so news goes around,” said the man, who is in his 50s.
However, he added that Mahathir should be aware of 3,000 to 4,000 National Security Council (MKN) officers and their families who were brought into Langkawi when he was Prime Minister.
“If they are still loyal to him, he would be able to win their votes, otherwise it will go to BN. Nevertheless, local residents will still support him. It doesn’t matter that he is old, he is still relevant here,” he added.
Fisherman Bidi Hassan, 48, said locals are very informed of the political situation in the country and they are ready for a change.
“We are happy that Mahathir decided to contest here after earlier predictions of Kubang Pasu and Putrajaya. He did a lot for this island. It was obvious but after retiring in 2004, the island went into decline. There was no proper development, investment or effort to increase our economy.
“In fact, there is no inspiration in the local council or the Langkawi Development Authority (LADA) to make the island vibrant. Most of the time, they don’t even know what is going on or who is in charge,” he said.
The Kuala Teriang local said incumbent MP Datuk Nawawi Ahmad was also hardly seen in his constituency.
“The rural folk don’t like him because he does not keep his promises. He has been scolded many times by the kampung people but there is still no change,” he added.
For Mahathir, seeing the islanders at his talk on Sunday night made him happy, and even cracked some jokes in the colloquial Kedah dialect that resonated with the crowd.
“I am so happy that many Langkawi residents have come to attend this talk. I believe even the residents have not seen this number of people gathering in one place to listen to speeches. We the people should be responsible to ensure that our country is governed well. So make sure you know who to pick to replace the Prime Minister in the coming general election,” he said with a smile.