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Malaysia in transition

Mahathir to stay in power for '1 or 2 years'

Malaysian PM vows 'no deal' with predecessor on corruption allegations

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad appears live via video link at an event in Tokyo on Tuesday.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- Malaysia's new Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said Tuesday that he intends to stay in the position for one or two years before handing over power to an as yet undetermined successor.

"Maybe lasting one or two years, I will have to be the prime minister," said Mahathir, speaking via video link from Kuala Lumpur for a conference hosted by The Wall Street Journal in Tokyo. 

The new prime minister also said jailed reformist Anwar Ibrahim, one of the leading candidates to succeed him, would be released on Wednesday.

Anwar will not receive any special treatment compared with other coalition leaders. "He is the leader of one of the [four] coalition parties. There will be no special power," Mahathir said.

However, the 92-year-old did hint that Anwar may be named as a member of the new cabinet, only three ministers of which have so far been appointed. 

Mahathir added that he felt the transition of power from the administration of Najib Razak went very well, "with no resistance," something the coalition itself "did not expect."

But that seems to be the extent of the reconciliatory tone Mahathir is prepared to take. The new prime minister said he is now in the process of getting into the details of "the matters Najib suppressed" during his time in power.

"Within a short while, we will have a case against him and we will be able to charge him," he said in relation to corruption allegations against his predecessor.

During the session, Mahathir was unequivocal when asked if he would be prepared to compromise if Najib were to plead guilty to any potential charges and return assets he had allegedly obtained. "No deal," was his reply.

The 92-year-old also made sure to impress upon the executives in attendance that his country was open for investment. "We will be very business friendly," he said.

Yet he also stressed the importance of quality investment. "We do not consider coming into Malaysia, buying up huge chunks of land, developing towns cheaply and bringing foreigners to live in this country as foreign direct investment."

The new prime minister insisted foreign companies should generate economic growth by setting up plants and hiring local employees right up to executive level.

Despite being made through a video feed, the significance of his comments was not lost on the audience, having come so soon after his election victory.

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