KOTA KINABALU: Dr Mahathir Mohamad is set to visit Sabah tomorrow, five years after he testified as one of the key witnesses in the Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) on Illegal Immigrants.
The Pakatan Harapan chairman, who has since returned to lead the government, had skipped Sabah when he was criss-crossing the country during the 14th general election campaign.
Mahathir’s image in Sabah has largely been associated with the so-called “Projek IC”, which some have over the years mischievously called as “Projek M”, a reference to his alleged role in granting citizenship to illegal immigrants in the 1980s and 1990s, effectively changing the state’s demographics.
Although many Sabahans blame Mahathir despite his denial, there are also many including natives who are thankful to him for their Malaysian citizenship.
As such, depending on who you talk to, Mahathir is both loved and loathed in Sabah.
Mahathir’s absence in Sabah during the general election campaign had been exploited by the Barisan Nasional coalition, accusing the elder leader of not being concerned with Sabah’s welfare.
After successfully dislodging BN on May 9, Mahathir made a number of trips overseas, including twice to Japan, China and even Brunei Darussalam, but not Sabah.
Even during his first tenure as prime minister, Sabah was not exactly his favourite destination, having made only one or two trips a year between 1981 to 2003.
Tomorrow, he will attend the Malaysia Day celebration in Kota Kinabalu together with several federal and state ministers.
Ironically, Malaysia Day on Sept 16 only earned its status as a national holiday by the executive order of his predecessor, Najib Razak.
As such, Mahathir’s speech to Sabahans tomorrow will be interesting. It would show how he views Sabah and Sarawak, 15 years after he first stepped down as prime minister.
In the ‘New Malaysia’, and in Sabah, hopes are high that Mahathir is a “changed man”.