BATU PAHAT, Feb 26 — Parti Pejuang Tanah Air’s participation in the Johor election is not a deliberate move to split votes for the Opposition front, its president Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir said today.

Instead, he said the state election is so that his Malay-centric party can gauge its appeal towards Malaysians in preparation for the 15th general election.

Mukhriz said there had been studies conducted that claimed Pejuang was still riding on the “Tun factor” to prominence, adding that the Johor election was the chance for the party to publicly test those claims and prove its current capabilities.

“There are critics saying that Pejuang coming into the state election would split the votes for the Opposition.

“It’s really ironic because when we were in Bersatu, our contributions to Pakatan were never acknowledged.

“I think it may split the Opposition votes, but I think it’s important to participate in the state elections to establish how much support Pejuang has,” he told reporters during a meet-and-greet in Rengit town as election campaigning officially kicked off.

Apart from affirming the said hypothesis, Mukhriz said the party also intended to win as many seats as possible.

The “Tun” factor refers to Pejuang chairman and former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, whom the party touts as the most prominent Malay statesman to have led the country to glory, and believe can do so again even as he will 97 in July.

Mukhriz previously announced that Pejuang will use his father, Dr Mahathir’s image, on all its campaign posters and materials for the Johor election on the basis that the 96-year-old is well-liked by many Johoreans.

Mukhriz said the party had gauged local sentiments through town hall sessions and stakeholder meetings with NGOs.

He added that he was confident that the “Tun factor” was still able to rally substantial support for the party in Johor.

“From there, we get a sense from the people that they still associate the good old days with Tun,” he said.

Mukhriz related that some of the locals had also asked if Pejuang was indeed Dr Mahathir’s party after being expelled from Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) in 2020.

“So the spontaneous response when we give them our (campaign) pamphlets is that some go ‘oh this is Tun’s party?’ and it’s across all boards (involving various ethnic groups).

“So I think we made the right decision,” he added.

Bersatu had been a component of the Pakatan Harapan coalition when it won the 14th general election in 2018, but quit to align itself with the Umno-led Barisan Nasional coalition and PAS, to wrest federal power.

While Bersatu is still a ruling party and partnering PAS as components of the Perikatan Nasional coalition, it is also at the same time fighting Umno and the BN collective to maintain its hold on power in the Johor election.