SABAH, MALAYSIA — Viral videos and photos on social media showed an election rally attended by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysia’s former Prime Minister last Sunday, which appears to be attended by fewer than 200 people, leaving plenty of seats unfilled.

96-year-old Dr Mahathir currently leads a newly founded political coalition, Gerakan Tanah Air (GTA, or Homeland Movement), contesting in Malaysia’s 15th General Election.

GTA component parties including Parti Pejuang Tanah Air (PEJUANG), Parti Perikatan India Muslim Nasional (Iman), Parti Barisan Jemaah Islamiah Se-Malaysia (BERJASA) and Parti Bumiputera Perkasa Malaysia (PUTRA).

GTA which was only founded in August 2022, is contesting 125 out of the 222 Malaysia parliamentary seats.

While defending his Langkawi seat, Dr Mahathir is still going around campaigning for his coalition, vowing to “save the nation”.

Last Sunday, he flew to Kota Kinabalu, Sabah to attend a launching event for PEJUANG Sabah as party chief at 4 pm that day. GTA is fielding 14 candidates to contest in Sabah.

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The event as shown in some videos and photos was left with plenty of empty seats, and some wonder if the former Prime Minister’s popularity has passed.

Mahathir claims his supporters are “busy campaigning”

However, Dr Mahathir has dismissed concerns over the low turnout at the launch of Pejuang’s Sabah chapter.

“It does not reflect the real support for the party here. Many people are busy campaigning. I am not concerned,” said Mahathir.

According to Free Malaysia Today, Nicholas Sylvester Muhammad, Organising chairman for the launching event, claimed that most of the group’s members were busy campaigning, hence their absence at the event that day.

He was also welcomed at the airport by Sabah chief minister and Gabungan Rakyat Sabah chairman Hajiji Noor.

Dr Mahathir age 96, active on Tik Tok

Dr Mahathir’s official Facebook page has over 3.9 Million followers, and some of his online live streams are still able to garner over 100 thousand views; He is also active on Tik Tok and his official page, captioned, “Still Young”, is considered to be popular with 2.1 million likes.

Viewership of his Tik Tok videos ranges from 10 to 900 thousand on average, and the highest viewed video recorded in August 2020 reached 3.2 million, showing some footage of Dr Mahathir with his wife, Siti Hasmah Mohamad Ali, celebrating their 64th wedding anniversary.

@chedetofficial

64 and still going strong #LoveStory

♬ original sound – chedetofficial – chedetofficial

Dr Mahathir, who was the 4th Malaysia prime minister for 22 years from 1981 to 2003 and again as 7th PM from 2018 to 2020, previously said he didn’t want to contest in this general election (GE15) but felt compelled to do so as he did not “complete his last term”.

He once led the ruling party UMNO and ruled Malaysia with an iron fist, and surprisingly came out from retirement to form Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (BERSATU) to oppose then Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak.

BERSATU joined the opposition alliance, and Dr Mahathir lead the reformist alliance and won a historic victory over the Najib-led Barisan National coalition. Dr Mahathir became premier again just two months shy of his 93rd birthday, but his government collapsed in less than two years due to infighting.

According to AFP’s quote from an analyst, while Mahathir is expected to win easily in Langkawi, but aiming for the premiership a third time would be tough.