Mahathir steps down

Mahathir Muhammad has handed over power to Abd Allah Badawi after 22 years as Malaysian prime minister.

    Mahathir (R) will spend his retirement writing his memoirs

    In contrast to Mahathir's often controversial reign, the formal hand-over of power was performed with quiet dignity in a ceremony before King Tuanku Syed Sirajuddin at the royal palace in Kuala Lumpur.

    Abd Allah, 63, took the oath of office as Malaysia's fifth prime minister since independence from Britain in 1957 as Mahathir, 77, followed through on a pledge to retire.

    After Friday morning's ceremony the two men were due to travel separately to the prime minister's office in the new administrative capital of Putrajaya south of Kuala Lumpur.

    Later in the day, Mahathir was due to clock out, using the punch card system he introduced for civil servants a month after becoming prime minister in July 1981.

    And on Monday, Abd Allah will clock in after spending the weekend in his home state of Penang.

    Condemnation

    Malaysian newspapers published massive supplements of lavish praise for Mahathir on Friday, but he was snubbed by Australian Prime Minister John Howard and criticised by the United States Congress.

    Howard said in a radio interview he had no farewell message for Mahathir, who has regularly dismissed Australia's bid to be accepted as part of Asia, describing it recently as "some sort of transplant from another region".

    Abd Allah Badawi is expected to
    continue his mentor's policies

    In Washington, the House of Representatives joined the Senate in condemning Mahathir for his remarks at an Islamic summit in mid-October that Jews rule the world by proxy.

    By a vote of 411 to 0, with one abstention, the lower chamber of Congress adopted a resolution condemning Mathahir's remarks as "incendiary" and "despicable".

    Mahathir, 77, has acknowledged that his legacy was a controversial one.

    'Mr Nice Guy'

    Asked how he would like to be remembered, he said he did not mind if he was forgotten, but added: "They will not forget all -- as Shakespeare has said, 'the evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones'."

    Mahathir's successor,

    Abd Allah Badawi, is known in Malaysia as "Mr Nice Guy". 

    But he will need more than charm to fill the big

    shoes left by Mahathir

    .

    Within a year, probably much sooner, he will face an election,

    with his main opposition coming from the Islamist opposition

    .

    However, Abd Allah has refused to be drawn

    on how he might try to change Malaysia when he takes over.

    He has

    pledged to continue his mentor's policies, but there is no doubt the

    style will be different.

    Economic growth

    Mahathir is outspoken and confrontational while Abd Allah is seen

    as quieter, a team player.

    Analysts say Abd Allah, who has no experience in economic

    management, is unlikely to change any of Mahathir's business

    policies which have brought dramatic growth to the country.

    John Howard said he had no
    farewell message for Mahathir

    His regional foreign policy is likely to focus on enhancing

    political ties and trade with Southeast Asian nations and Japan, and

    it is possible he will be less critical of Australia, one of

    Mahathir's favourite whipping boys.

    On the wider international stage he will probably find major

    trading partners in the United States and the European Union

    delighted to have a less prickly customer to deal with.

    Domestically, analysts hold out little hope for improvement on

    human rights issues, for which Mahathir was regularly criticised.

    Islamist opposition

    As home minister, a title he held along with deputy prime

    minister, Abd Allah has over the past two years approved the

    detention without trial of scores of alleged Islamists

    .

    Abd Allah's major legitimate political challenge will come from

    the opposition Islamic Party (PAS), a Muslim group which

    wants to introduce Islamic law

    .

    Abd Allah has strong religious credentials, having majored in

    Islamic studies at University Malaya, but this is unlikely to impress the

     country's Muslims as long as he

    upholds the secular constitution.

    Malaysia

    is sometimes described as the world's most economically

    successful Islamic state, and Abd Allah has made it clear

    he intends to keep it that way.

    SOURCE: AFP


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