September 14, 2002

Malaysia's ruler won't run again

By Rohan Sullivan
Associated Press

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia -- Dousing speculation he would remain a pivotal player in Malaysian politics after he steps down, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said Friday that he wants out of all elected posts after his planned retirement late next year.
"I want to retire cleanly and not be involved in anything after my retirement," said Mahathir, a key Muslim ally of the United States.
It was the strongest indication yet that Mahathir, who has ruled this moderate Southeast Asian country since 1981 and is Asia's longest-serving elected leader, has decided against calling an early election before he retires and confirmed that he will give up the parliamentary seat he has held for nearly 30 years.
Speculation has been rife that Mahathir would lead his United Malays National Organization to the polls, fueled in part by nervousness in financial markets and elsewhere about who will succeed the man who has dominated Malaysian politics for more than 21 years.
Mahathir has strongly backed his deputy, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, as his successor.
Observers also had wondered whether Mahathir, 76, would stay on as a legislator after stepping down as prime minister, to act as a power broker in a future government. A precedent exists in neighboring Singapore, where longtime Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yu stepped down a decade ago but still wields clout as senior minister.
Mahathir stunned Malaysia when he announced June 22 during his party's annual convention that he was stepping down as prime minister and chairman of the ruling National Front coalition.
Shocked party leaders persuaded him to stay on.