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Malaysia in transition

Mahathir to stay PM for 'at least' another year before succession

Malaysian leader stresses anti-corruption as 'most successful achievement'

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad speaks to media in Kuala Lumpur on May 9. (Photo by Ying Xian Wong)

SINGAPORE -- Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said on May 9 he would stay in office for at least another year before handing over the reins to his successor Anwar Ibrahim.

Mahathir was speaking with media in Kuala Lumpur on the one-year anniversary of the historic general elections that led to the country's first regime change since it gained independence in 1957.

The 93-year-old leader has named former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar as his successor during the election campaign which has led to persistent speculation over the timing of the leadership transition.

"This is not the final year because I feel it's just one year [since the new government started]," Mahathir said. "I think, I may be able to last another one year, at least."

He added: "I should be able to make most of the corrections within the period of two years, and after that I think the others will have less problems to face." 

The prime minister did not mention Anwar's name during the news conference.

One year on from the elections, Mahathir said that the most successful achievement in the first year was cleaning up endemic corruption in the previous government -- the main reason that spurred Mahathir come out from retirement to lead then-opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) to a historic election victory.

"There is very little corruption now. People can do business with the government without all this problem of having to pay extra," he said. "So that is a very important achievement... and that contributes to the stability of the economy."

Yet, Mahathir's approval rating dropped from 83% last May to 46% in March, according to the latest poll by independent research firm Merdeka Center. Mahathir said that the drop in approval rating is "natural" because the government is exposed to criticism and disagreement when it implements significant changes.

His priority for the second year will be the economy, Mahathir said.

Malaysia's economy faces both external and internal challenges stemming from U.S.-China trade tensions and global uncertainties that have led to foreign money fleeing from stock market, making the country's benchmark index one of the worst performing major markets in Asia.

"Some people are uncertain about the abilities of this government... but generally I think the local investors are sticking with us," Mahathir said. While he acknowledged that money is fleeing from equity market, he stressed that "proposals for [foreign direct] investment have been very big."

Researcher Ying Xian Wong in Kuala Lumpur contributed to this story.

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