Thursday, June 27, 2002

Malaysians hail PM’s move to step down

Kuala Lumpur, June 26: Malaysia's media greeted the official word of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed’s decision to hand over power to his deputy with surprise and praise on Wednesday.
Four days after Mahathir stunned the ruling party with his resignation, newspapers digested the succession plan for the 76-year-old leader. Some were still debating whether Mahathir really had put a cap on his rule and intended handing over to his deputy, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, by October next year.
‘‘Did you really think Dr Mahathir was joking?’’ asked columnist Rehman Rashid in the generally government-friendly New Straits Times.
Far from causing political ripples, Rehman suggested Mahathir’s resignation was more akin to a giant boulder being thrown into a pond.
And Abdullah Ahmad, group-editor-in-chief of the New Straits Times Group and someone with regular access to Mahathir, confessed to having been caught cold on his departure. ‘‘I must admit now that I was wrong,’’ he said in a commentary. ‘‘I had thought, and said so repeatedly, that the PM would die in office.’’
Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, Opposition leader and wife of jailed former deputy PM Anwar Ibrahim, issued a statement urging Abdullah to improve basic democratic freedoms and governance standards.
For Mahathir’s successor, choosing a new deputy would be the trick, said Abdullah Ahmad. Malay-language daily Utusan Malaysia said in an editorial: ‘‘When Dr M Dropped the bombshell, many who hated him now supported him. We hope this transition period will bring good to the nation.’’