Ever since Balqis Dzulkefly was a child, she had looked up to and respected Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysia’s longest serving prime minister who made history in 2018 by becoming the country’s leader for the second time as well as the world’s oldest elected head of state.
Come the 15th general election (GE15) in November 2022, though, the Langkawi voter found herself casting her ballot for another candidate instead.
As the night wore on, she watched as the votes were tallied and her long-time idol was soundly defeated, winning just 4,566 votes and losing his deposit to boot.
Speaking to MalaysiaNow, the 19-year-old nursing student said she had never doubted Mahathir’s abilities, even at the ripe old age of 97.
She merely wanted to see the veteran statesman take a break from politics and focus on his health instead.
“My friends and I had many opportunities to chat with Mahathir before we went to vote,” she said.
“Actually, we would have felt sorry for him if he had won because he would have had to do a lot of work.
“He’d have to go to Parliament, attend meetings, and show his face at events all over the place. He’s older than our grandparents at home. Let him rest,” she added.
Balqis said she and her friends, all of whom were first-time voters, would not have hesitated to support a candidate close to Mahathir as his replacement.
“If any of his children had contested, we probably would have voted for them, but none of them did,” she said.
Mahathir, the Pejuang chairman, came in fourth in a five-way contest for Langkawi. The seat was won by Perikatan Nasional candidate Mohd Suhaimi Abdullah, with a majority of 13,518 votes.
He recently said that he was “a little disappointed” about his defeat as he had brought about development in the constituency.
“I was rejected and lost 14,000 votes,” he said.
Balqis said she had never forgotten Mahathir’s service to the country, especially Langkawi.
She said it made her happier to see her favourite leader relaxing at home with a book than hard at work in an office, as he would have been if he had won the election.
“Every time I go back to Langkawi, I am reminded of its beauty and the speed at which it is being developed,” she said.
“I grew up seeing tourists from all over the world come to my home town, and I am proud of everything he has done so far.
“But I’m sorry, I voted for someone else. Please rest now.”
Langkawi has long been synonymous with Mahathir, who during his first tenure as prime minister, brought in many investors and made it a leading international tourist destination.
Before announcing his candidacy for GE15, he said that it would be his last run at an election.
“I won’t be around for GE16,” he said.
His son, former Kedah menteri besar Mukhriz Mahathir, suffered a similar fate at the Nov 19 polls, losing his Jerlun seat which he had held since 2018.
The aftermath of GE15, which resulted in a hung parliament, saw political analysts speculating that the defeat of well-known politicians in so-called “stronghold” seats was a sign from voters that they might no longer be relevant in the area.
Umno veteran Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, who held the Gua Musang seat for 48 years, was also toppled at the general election.
Mohamad Adam Zakari, 23, said Mahathir should have been rejected by voters even at GE14 in 2018.
The law student said the former prime minister was no longer a kingmaker, especially since resigning from the top office in 2020.
“He shouldn’t be surprised or sad,” he said. “Elections and votes aren’t a matter of taking care of politicians’ feelings.
“He might feel differently if he had refrained from contesting even in 2018.”
Adam added that the young voters were looking for something new and fresh, and did not put much stock in how long an individual had served.
Throughout the world, he said, when a politician steps down from office, someone else takes over.
He said Mahathir’s “glory days” were over, and that the veteran statesman should give way to whoever is chosen by the voters in a fair and democratic election.
He also said that Mahathir’s “ultra Malay” factor was no longer applicable as he had failed to win the support of the community, even in Langkawi.
“Take a break, Dr Mahathir,” he added. “I hope that all goes well with you.”