LANGKAWI, April 15 — Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad arrived tonight at a small, open field in Padang Matsirat, just a stone's throw away from Langkawi Airport.
It is a far cry from his days in Umno and Barisan Nasional, where each official visit would usually be greeted with pomp and pageantry.
Yet the 92-year-old nonagenarian seemed more determined than ever to go on an election stump for Pakatan Harapan, made up of new friends he once called enemies back when he was prime minister.
Dr Mahathir arrived to light applause from an audience of approximately 800 people, despite rumours that he would be announcing his candidacy for the Langkawi parliamentary seat later tonight.
The lukewarm response so far may deter some PH leaders from placing too much hope on Dr Mahathir leading the charge for Langkawi, and by extension Kedah but for the Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) chairman, there is no turning back.
Also present were Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, PKR president Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Ismail and Parti Amanah Negara Mohamad Sabu.
The stakes are indeed very high for Dr Mahathir. If he wins it is a sign that he is still accepted by the people of Langkawi, who he had helped to uplift economically in 1987 when he declared the island status as free port.
Dr Mahathir was reportedly the first Malay medical doctor that oversaw healthcare in Langkawi in 1954 when he worked as a medical officer at the Alor Setar General Hospital.
It is understood Dr Mahathir’s contribution to the island’s development started as early as 1960s when he helped establish an extensive ferry service.
In 1980, as deputy prime minister, he was instrumental in the construction of the Kuah jetty and expanded the ferry services. The initiative opened up the island to more people and Langkawi quickly developed as a popular tourism spot.
This paved way for rapid development and by then, the island had modern roads and amenities that included its own public hospital. Today, the island also has its own airport and boasts a cable-car service for tourists.
In 1987, Dr Mahathir as prime minister declared Langkawi a tax-free zone, a move that brought in billions of tourist money into the island and made it among the country’s most popular vacation and shopping spots.