KOTA KINABALU, Sept 15 — Once upset with the federal government, Sabahans appear to have dropped their previous grouses and were now keen to welcome Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad who will visit the state capital again after a long absence.
When asked about their views of Dr Mahathir’s visit tomorrow, many said it his arrival was timely after his previous visits to countries such as Japan, China and even Sabah’s neighbours of Brunei and Sarawak.
“It’s been a long time since he’s been here. I’m looking forward to Sunday’s event; I’ll be there even if it rains. I hope I’ll be able to see him!” said Masnah Mohamad, a small trader who came to watch the full rehearsal at Padang Merdeka with her two children.
Dr Mahathir is due in Sabah tomorrow for the national Malaysia Day celebrations.
The celebratory mood comes against the backdrop of his complicated relationship with the state.
Many in Sabah still associate Dr Mahathir with “Projek IC”, which was the subject of a royal inquiry on illegal immigrants in the state.
Although there remains lingering resentment over the issue, this was largely eclipsed by the excitement following the change in government during the general election.
Few were as excited to receive the PM as Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal when speaking to 800 students and performers at the rehearsal last night, during which he urged them to keep their energy high and smiles wide for the celebrations.
“I’m so happy our beloved prime minister is coming to Sabah. This symbolises, in spite of his age, his health, he is willing to come for the country,” a visibly-enthused Shafie told reporters.
He rejected claims of remaining animosity against the federal government, insisting that was aimed solely at the defeated Barisan Nasional.
“That’s why we are so happy to change government. People here wanted change but we couldn’t do it alone. People wanted Umno out and who realised it? It was Tun Mahathir.
“So we have to appreciate what he has done, we couldn’t have done it without his efforts,” said Shafie.
Shafie said that Dr Mahathir’s absence during campaigning in the state for the general election was because he had been needed elsewhere.
He added that Sabah parties at the time also concluded that his efforts would be more effective if deployed directly against Umno in the peninsula, where he could do the most to upset the Malay nationalist party and BN.
When asked whether the prime minister will make any special announcements for Sabah tomorrow, Shafie said he was hopeful but did not know if any is planned.
Others are reserving judgement until later into his current tenure, but were willing to be optimistic.
“I wouldn’t have been keen on his coming here before, but it’s different now that he is the PM,” said Adrian Lasimbang.
The newly-instated DAP senator said he hoped Dr Mahathir would announce “something good” for Sabah for the benefit of Sabahans, and the longevity of the PH government.
“Especially addressing the issues faced by Sabahans, maybe the RCI report and illegal immigrant issues. Or a better deal for Sabah’s economic growth.
“I don't expect an apology. But I do expect solutions,” he said.
Lasimbang, a former critic of Dr Mahathir said that it was hard to reconcile his feelings for the PM at first, but he had to face it in the pursuit of the bigger political picture.
“Many KDMs are still angry, and that can only subside as PH provides solutions to our problems. After all, bread and butter issues are more important than our emotions,” he said.