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Malaysia's Mahathir says this will be his last term

Date: 10 Dec 1999
Time: 22:28:04


Malaysia's Mahathir says this will be his last term

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 10 (AFP) - Malaysia's veteran Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad announced Friday he would stand down after his current term in office, but gave few clues to his successor as he unveiled a post-election cabinet.

"By the next term I'll be very nearly 80 years old," Asia's longest serving elected leader told a press conference, confirming for the first time he would not seek another term.

"I'll be having a stiff neck and failing eyesight and all that kind of thing. So this will be my last term.

"Although there have been people who have been asking that I should continue forever, continuing forever is a little bit difficult."

Most top leaders were unchanged in the new cabinet, with Abdullah Ahmad Badawi remaining deputy premier and home minister. Daim Zainuddin was reappointed finance minister and special functions minister.

The biggest surprise was the appointment to the powerful education ministry of Musa Mohamed, an academic and political newcomer from Penang state. He will be made a member of the upper house senate so he can assume the post.

Another possible rising star is former Deputy Primary Industries Minister Hishammuddin Tun Hussein, made a full minister in charge of youth and sports.

Hishammuddin is the son of a former premier.

Former education minister Najib Tun Razak, also a premier's son and considered another possible successor to the 73-year-old Mahathir, becomes defence minister, though one analyst suggested the appointment could be a move to clip his wings.

Making a ministerial debut in charge of agriculture is Mohamad Effendi Norwawi, who owns the private NTV7 television station.

Rafidah Aziz keeps her job as international trade and industry minister, and Syed Hamid Albar remains foreign minister.

Ling Liong Sik stays at transport, Samy Vellu remains works minister and Lim Keng Yaik continues as primary industries minister. The three are party chiefs in the ruling National Front coalition.

Sani Hamid, analyst with Singapore-based Standard and Poor's MMS, called the cabinet a "well-balanced mix of continuity and change."

"It is generally a good sign for investors because the team which led the country out of the recession and formulated the economic policies are still there," he said.

But Sani said the line-up gave no clue to Mahathir's sucession. "That still remains an open-ended question and will only be known during the UMNO general assembly next year."

The United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) is the front's dominant party.

Analysts were divided on whether Abdullah was now a potential successor. One said he lacked a strong enough power base in UMNO, but another said he "looks more secure than ever."

The premier crushed any hopes that Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, once touted in some quarters as a future premier, might have had of becoming leader.

Razaleigh nearly unseated Mahathir in a UMNO poll in 1987 and founded a breakaway grouping before returning to the ruling party fold in 1996.

Asked why Razaleigh was not in the cabinet, Mahathir replied: "We have taken into consideration various criteria in the appointment of ministers. If a person does not fit in with the criteria, we cannot appoint him, no matter who he is."

Razaleigh spearheaded the UMNO's election battle in the northeastern state of Kelantan, but failed to retake the state assembly from the opposition Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS).

Mahathir retained his National Front's two-thirds majority in the polls, but UMNO lost 16 parliamentary seats and the state assembly in northeastern Terengganu.

The Islamic PAS party was the main beneficiary of a protest vote by ethnic Malays.

Asked if the ruling bloc might adopt a more Islamic agenda to compete with among PAS, Mahathir replied: "The (National Front) has always adopted measures and ruled this country according to Islamic principles.

"We have never breached Islamic principles. We will continue with that stand and we will not go against Islamic principles."

Mahathir defended the results of the November 29 polls, saying "the performance this time is much better than in many other elections."

He also played down talk of a Malay split. "The split is not so much a split. It's all due to inter-party rivalry and loyalty to certain personalities rather than to the party."

Last changed: December 10, 1999