World

Mahathir will hand over to Anwar despite sexual assault allegations

KUALA LUMPUR Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad promised yesterday to hand over power to appointed successor Anwar Ibrahim in spite of new sexual assault allegations against the 72-year-old.

Dr Mahathir, 94, said he would not hand over before a summit of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) countries that Malaysia is to host in November next year but could be ready after that.

" I thought that a change immediately before the Apec summit would be disruptive," Dr Mahathir said.

"As far I am concerned, I am stepping down and I am handing the baton to him. If people don't want him, that is their business, but I will do my part of the promise... irrespective of whatever allegation.

"I made my promise, I keep my promise."

Asked if a handover could come in December next year, Dr Mahathir said: "We'll look at that when the time comes."

The turbulent relationship between the two men - allies turned fierce rivals who later reunited to win power - has shaped politics in Malaysia for decades.

Dr Mahathir was elected last year as the head of a coalition government whose largest party is led by Mr Anwar, who has been jailed twice on separate counts of sodomy and corruption - charges that he says were political.

Last week, Mr Anwar denied fresh allegations by a former aide that he had tried to force him to have sex - describing the accusations as "politics at its worst".

Although Dr Mahathir promised to hand over control to Mr Anwar during the 2018 election campaign, doubts grew over his intentions when he later said he needed more time to steer the heavily indebted country out of its troubles first.

As well as planning to be the first leader in the world to host the Apec summit twice, Dr Mahathir also wants to cement his legacy as a leader in the Muslim world.

- REUTERS

WORLD