PETALING JAYA: Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad today reiterated that he will hand over the reins to his successor, Anwar Ibrahim, “preferably in two years or so”.
However, Mahathir said “the time is not very specific”.
Asked why he was reluctant to set a time frame, he said this was because there may be some things he needed to do before stepping down.
Mahathir gave the example of the 1997 financial crisis, when he was prime minister and was on holiday in the United Kingdom.
“Then, Anwar was the acting prime minister. But because of the crisis, I needed to return, to take over and handle the problem.
“If something like that happens … if … I need to stay on. Preferably I will step down in two years … or so,” he said at the Asean Business Summit in Bangkok this evening.
Mahathir sidestepped questions on whether Anwar was ready to be prime minister, and if he trusted him, stating instead he had made a promise and he was sticking to it.
There has often been conflicting statements as to when the handover of power will take place, despite Mahathir saying previously he may do so within two years.
Observers have pointed out that this is due to the absence of a specific date.
On whether there was a need for a Cabinet reshuffle, Mahathir said this was not something he had done before and he will not do it now.
However, he did not rule out the possibility of one “if somebody dies or gets ill”.
“When you reshuffle the Cabinet, it will cause a lot of heartaches to many people. They may react in a way that is detrimental to your good relations.
“I don’t normally reshuffle the Cabinet unless there is an election. I don’t casually remove people and put new people.
“I have not done that before and I will not do that now. In Malaysia, we do not like changing ministers too often,” he said.
On whether he is a different leader now compared to when he was last prime minister, Mahathir had this to say: “I don’t know. I am still myself.
“I want to work for my country. I do not have much of a future. So the last thing I want to do is to go away, leaving the country in shambles, like the previous one.
“So, I am working hard for the country to the best of my abilities. Hopefully, we will be able to make corrections and solve the problems,” he said.
On the one thing he must fix before he steps down, Mahathir said it is the country’s debt.
“The debt is too big for the country. We need to reduce it. One solution is, as the gross domestic product grows, the debt percentage decreases.
“Another solution is perhaps sell assets. If you want to buy anything, we are willing to sell to you for a billion dollars,” he said, adding that the debt was dragging the country down.