“Will Langkawi, the Jewel of Kedah Elect its Architect?” by Serina Rahman

2018/30, 19 March 2018

There is speculation as to whether former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad will stand in Langkawi for GE 14. If he does, will the islanders go with the party that has always been in power or the personality seen as the driver behind Langkawi’s development. In fact, the ruling party was, for the longest time, run by that same person. The question is whether the people are angry enough with current conditions to forsake the party for the person who now has a different political platform.

It is clear that UMNO is concerned about this. Current Prime Minister Najib Razak celebrated Chinese New Year on the island with gifts of RM1.3 billion (about SG$440 million) in development promises and generous dinner lucky draw prizes of a car and motorcycle. The following month, Barisan National’s popular Minister of Youth and Sports, Khairy Jamaluddin, also appeared in Langkawi to remind the locals that Mahathir’s contribution to the island was only possible with UMNO’s support.

Langkawi is a well-kept island with good roads and a reasonable spread of facilities and amenities for all levels of society – both local and foreign. Locals are still able to enjoy their traditional lifestyles and villages yet participate and benefit from tourism. While some attractions seem abandoned, new ‘ecotourism offerings’ are being built even though the island’s UNESCO Geopark status stipulates the preservation of geological and natural heritage.

In February 2017, it was reported that the federal government was considering converting Langkawi into federal territory. This was resoundingly rejected by the locals. Not everyone is in support of rampant development. Langkawi’s youth, for instance, are reportedly unhappy with the building of a condominium in a historically important location. Other islanders note that improved livelihoods are more important than big developments; some have expressed hesitation over the announcement to make Langkawi into a ‘Monaco of the East’. Word on the ground has also spread of a purported plan to reclaim the Kuah waterfront for luxury and resort housing, possibly closing off the bay between Kuah and Dayang Bunting Island.

A month before the expected dissolution of parliament, the red flags of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) already flutter in the wind. While there are also BN and PAS flags, PPBM flags dominate around freshly painted buildings dedicated as PPBM action centres and at random roadsides and villages. BN flags surround somewhat worn refurbished containers. The difference in the dedicated infrastructure is telling. While opposition insiders concede that Langkawi could fall because of the sweeteners offered, whispered responses from the islanders indicate that this time they might turn away from the party. While gifts might have worked in the past, it seems that this time round, there may be too much dissatisfaction with the current state of the nation. The general reluctance to openly commit to a vote could be indicative of the power of one man’s legacy over his former party.

Dr Serina Rahman is Visiting Fellow under the Malaysia Program at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.

The facts and views expressed are solely that of the author/authors and do not necessarily reflect that of ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.  No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without permission.