The former premier travels mostly by private jet but jaws dropped among those waiting to welcome him as the wide-bodied B767 aircraft carrying him taxied to a stop.
It was probably one the biggest private jets he had travelled on to Langkawi and the Weststar name emblazoned in gold on the side of the plane suggested that it belonged to aviation billionaire Tan Sri Syed Azman Ibrahim.
But more amazing was the fact that Dr Mahathir, 94, was able to tackle the double flight of steps from the exit door to the tarmac.
Then he climbed into the driver’s seat of a crimson Proton X70 and drove off.
Dr Mahathir was unable to visit his island constituency for months because of the Covid-19 pandemic and he is urging people to return to this beautiful island which is starting to reopen.
It is unclear how long he was there but he had a packed schedule – visiting shops, checking out a cattle and maize-growing project with his son Datuk Seri Mokhzani Mahathir and squeezing in a meeting with members of the Langkawi division of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia even though he has been sacked from the party. There is some sort of dual universe thing going on with Dr Mahathir and it was as though all is well in his political life.
The reality is that little has gone right for him since he resigned from the job that he is now trying to reclaim. He is stuck in a tight corner of his own making.
Public opinion has been cold, even negative, about another comeback. They are not convinced why he deserves another chance.
Even photo-journalist Jinggo Minaq, a diehard Mahathir supporter, admits that his hero’s attempt at a third round hints of what he calls “geram” (bitterness) at being done in by Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.
“He is still upset that Muhyiddin overtook him at the Rothmans Corner,” Jinggo said, borrowing from a 1980s racing term for the most dangerous corner at the Batu Tiga race track.
Dr Mahathir has argued that he needs another six months to correct the wrongs done by Datuk Seri Najib Razak and Muhyiddin as well as to honour the promise to hand over power to Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.
But what can a person do in six months which he could not in 22 months? And if he is serious about the handover promise, he should just throw his support behind Anwar as Pakatan Harapan’s prime minister candidate and help Pakatan amass the numbers they need to retake Putrajaya.
Dr Mahathir has always been a few steps ahead in terms of reading the mood out there.
“But I’m not sure he knows that they don’t want him back a third time,” said a senior Bersatu figure.
A comment on Dr Mahathir’s Facebook page a while back captured the overall sentiment beautifully: “You have done so much, stay cute and let others carry on.”
It showed that people are grateful for his contributions, his personality still attracts them but it is time to let go.
Bersatu supreme council member Akhramsyah Sanusi said Dr Mahathir would not contest if there is a snap election.
“He is not clinging on, he wants the younger generation to take over. In our discussions, he is open to anyone who wishes to be his successor, probably someone younger.
“He is consistent in wanting to take back the government for six months, then hand over to Anwar.
“He would be happy to give way to someone who can get the numbers and get rid of the kleptocrats,” said Akhramsyah.
The stalemate between Pakatan and Dr Mahathir has not been good for the Opposition’s image. They have been unable to focus on being a good Opposition.
A survey by a reputable polling body which was commissioned by a west coast state government shows that Dr Mahathir’s approval rating stands at 35% with the Malays, 28% with the Indians and 36% with the Chinese.
In contrast, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s approval rating among the Malays is an astonishing 91%. The Prime Minister’s support among Indians is 65% and 25% among Chinese.
“Not only are the Malays comfortable with Muhyiddin, they feel safer under the present government when it comes to their religion, the position of the Malay Rulers, their rights as Malays,” said the above Bersatu figure.
These sort of ratings are what is driving talk within Perikatan Nasional of a snap general election.
Perikatan leaders are urging Muhyiddin not to make the same mistake as Najib who failed to strike while the iron was hot.
Dr Mahathir indicated there are still people trying to bring him and Muhyiddin together but he is adamant to have nothing to do with “kleptocrats” and “traitors”.
Even Bersatu’s trio of distinguished Tan Sri – Syed Hamid Syed Albar, Megat Najmuddin Megat Khas and Mohd Radzi Sheikh Ahmad – tried and failed to mend fences between the party’s top two.
“My father was a dear friend of Mahathir and I love Muhyiddin like a brother. I feel so sad and frustrated by the whole thing. We can only go forward, we cannot go backwards,” said one of the Tan Sri.
Those familiar with Dr Mahathir say it is near impossible to persuade him once he has made up his mind. What is apparent is that he has not given up on returning as prime minister, he believes he can solve the current crisis and end the culture of kleptocracy.
But time is not on his side. He turns 95 next month and talk of an early general election is gathering momentum.
The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.
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