KUALA LUMPUR, April 20 – Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is prepared to lead Barisan Nasional’s (BN) machinery for the Penanti by-election as his supporters continue to pile pressure on Umno president Datuk Seri Najib Razak to abandon his idea of skipping the expected vote in Penang.
The former prime minister believes he can defeat PKR in the stronghold of his arch-enemy Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. Penanti lies within Anwar’s Permatang Pauh parliamentary constituency.
And this message has been communicated by Dr Mahathir’s supporters to various BN leaders.
Yesterday, Dr Mahathir urged Najib to call off the idea of skipping the Penanti vote just a day after the new prime minister floated the idea.
Dr Mahathir argued that to concede defeat to the opposition would be a sign of weakness.
But The Malaysian Insider understands that so far, Najib and most BN leaders still think that it is counter-productive to contest the by-election in Penang.
Last week, PKR’s Fairus Khairuddin, who also resigned as Penang’s deputy chief minister amid graft allegations, resigned as Penanti assemblyman and paved the way for a by-election.
With even some in the PR camp concerned with election fatigue – Penanti will be the fifth poll since last year’s general elections – Najib began attacking the opposition for what he claimed was a waste of money in abusing the polls process for political mileage.
But PR leaders have hit back by accusing BN of cowardice.
Dr Mahathir’s remarks suggest that he fears BN and Umno may be stuck with that tag if they skipped the by-elections.
The Malaysian Insider understands that Dr Mahathir believes Anwar should not be given a free victory anywhere in the country.
The act of giving a walkover to Anwar, he feels, will have a demoralising effect on the Umno troops.
Dr Mahathir’s public remarks have, however, placed Najib in a predicament.
Accede to Dr Mahathir and he runs the risk of being labelled as being under the thumb of the former PM.
If he stands his ground, he risks getting the same kind of treatment Tun Abdullah Badawi received from Dr Mahathir, who contributed to his downfall through his unrelenting attacks on the administration.
It is understood, however, that the BN leaders are behind the Prime Minister on this issue.
Dr M wants to lead BN against Anwar in Penanti