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Malaysia in transition

Malaysia's Mahathir says he's not running in next election

Former prime minister vows to keep fighting corruption

Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad (Photo by Wong Ying Xian)

PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia (Kyodo) -- Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said Thursday he will not be contesting in the next election, but that will not stop him from fighting against corruption through his new party.

"I want to stay a bit longer but I thought I will serve for a short period," he told Kyodo News in an interview in his office at the federal administrative capital, Putrajaya. "But I will not be contesting in the 15th election."

The 95-year old Mahathir held the record as the world's oldest head of government when he returned to the top job for a second run after leading a ragtag coalition to an unexpected win in the May 2018 election.

He was the longest serving prime minister in his first turn, from 1981 to 2003.

Mahathir won the parliamentary seat for the northern constituency of Langkawi, a popular tourist island, in the 2018 election after staying out of office for 14 years.

The nonagenarian returned to active politics in his quest to defeat his predecessor Najib Abdul Razak, whom he described as a thief.

Najib was embroiled in the scandal involving the state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad that he founded and which authorities estimated some $4.5 billion has been misappropriated and millions of dollars later found its way into his personal bank accounts.

But Mahathir's second time in office was short-lived. His government lasted barely two years before internal fighting led to his coalition breaking up and he resigned on Feb. 24.

He is now on the warpath with his successor, Muhyiddin Yassin whom he has labeled as traitor.

Muhyiddin, together with Mahathir had founded the Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia to run the 2018 election. But they fell out when Muhyiddin decided to join forces with the opposition led by United Malays National Organization to form a new government.

Mahathir believes the new government has taken on the old corrupt ways of the previous National Front coalition government that he toppled in the 2018 election.

"It has unfortunately," he said.

"For three months after the Perikatan Nasional became the government, I did not make any comments because I wanted to see their performance. Unfortunately, it has reverted to corruption, buying support for the government. Despite that, it still only has a two-man majority," Mahathir added.

He was referring to the support Muhyiddin has in the 222-seat House of Representatives, the lower house of the Parliament. Currently Muhyiddin commands the backing of 113 legislators.

Critics claimed he bought their loyalty by doling out positions in the government or government-linked companies.

Muhyiddin's hold on power is under siege now as opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim on Wednesday claimed to have lured enough supporters to assume control. He said he only needs the consent of King Abdullah Ri'ayatuddin to form a new government.

His claim was backed by UMNO President Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who confirmed that "many" UMNO legislators have pledged support for Anwar.

Mahathir said Anwar must take the matter to a vote in the Parliament to confirm that he actually has the numbers.

"Whether he has the majority, he must prove that first and to prove that, he must go to the Parliament," he said.

He did not discount that Muhyiddin could opt to call for a snap poll to break the standoff.

Asked whether he will support his old nemesis Anwar, Mahathir said members of his party, Parti Pejuang Tanah Air or Fighters of the Nation Party, had reached out to Anwar before but were rebuffed.

"We had already proposed working with him many times. But he has rejected us. So we have to think very carefully as to whether we should support him or not," he said.

Anwar was Mahathir's deputy for six years until 1998 when he was sacked and jailed over what he claimed were trumped up corruption and sodomy charges by Mahathir.

Nevertheless, the two made a pact to fight Najib in the 2018 election and Anwar was tipped to succeed Mahathir before the next election.

Distrust ran deep between the two, however, and doubts were cast whether Mahathir would honor his words to hand over the reins -- but all this became moot when Mahathir's government collapsed.

Alas, retirement is not in his vocabulary. Mahathir may be out of the government, but he is still fighting. Recently he formed "Pejuang" that is awaiting government approval so that the party can run in the next election.

"Pejuang has got very strong principles, among which is to stop this country from being corrupt," he said.

Mahathir had made graft-busting a cornerstone of his government policy when he was in power. Many former ruling elites including Najib were hauled up to court to face corruption charges.

But now Mahathir alleges that the ruling Perikatan Nasional government is being propped up through bribery.

"This is the worse form of corruption The whole government is installed through corruption," he said.

At 95, Mahathir knows he does not have much time left and skeptics have remarked that his party may not last beyond him.

It is hoped his son, Mukhriz, who is interim president of his party, would carry on his legacy.

"It is up to him. I will not stand in his way. It's not fair to him," Mahathir said.

Out of Mahathir's seven children, only Mukhriz is active in politics. He was the chief minister of northern state of Kedah before being ousted in what analysts viewed as collateral damage in the battle between his father and Muhyiddin.

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