KUALA LUMPUR -- Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, fresh from an unprecedented election win that saw the country's opposition take power for the first time since independence, began his second stint in office Monday vowing to resolve the country's financial and image problems.
Speaking to staff at the Prime Minister's Department, the 92-year-old Mahathir said his goal was to restore the reputation of the country, which he said was damaged by the previous government.
"I am disappointed that our country is no longer respected," said Mahathir, referring to the scandal-tainted government of his predecessor, Najib Razak. "We must restore the country to ensure that it will be looked highly upon and respected once again."
Among the issues Mahathir highlighted are the country's debt, which exceeds 1 trillion ringgit ($252 billion). Buoyed by his success in handling the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s, Mahathir said he was confident he will be able to resolve Malaysia's current difficulties, backed by a civil service that upholds the separation of powers.
The independence of the country's three branches of government -- the executive, legislature and judiciary -- were compromised by the previous government, Mahathir said.
He pledged to carry out reforms without raising government spending, starting with a core cabinet of 13 ministries guided by the slogan "clean, efficient and trust," similar to the one he used back in July 1981 when he first became prime minister.
The Prime Minister's Department is one of the most important ministries in Malaysia, overseeing more than 80 agencies and statutory bodies, including those in charge of anti-graft operations, national audits and the attorney general's office.