- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 23, 2002

From combined dispatches
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, in a bizarre flip-flop, announced he was resigning as leader of his party and the governing coalition yesterday, but changed his mind after supporters pleaded with him to stay.
The political drama played out on national television and was denounced by opposition party officials as a ploy by Mr. Mahathir to gain support ahead of elections that loyalists hope he will call early.
Asia's longest-serving elected leader, Mr. Mahathir, 76, was led weeping from the rostrum after announcing he was quitting all his positions in the Barisan Nasional (National Front) coalition and his United Malays National Organization (UMNO) party. He has led Malaysia for 21 years.
His surprise announcement threw into turmoil the last day of UMNO's annual assembly.
But within an hour, Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi returned to the microphone to tell an auditorium packed with party faithfuls that the prime minister had changed his mind.
"Dr. Mahathir Mohamad is still our prime minister, is still UMNO president, is still Barisan Nasional chairman and is still holding other posts," Mr. Abdullah said, asking coalition supporters around the country to stay calm.
Mr. Abdullah said on television that Mr. Mahathir would have offered to quit his government posts, too, but for the conference uproar. Apart from being the prime minister, Mr. Mahathir is also finance minister.
Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, leader of the opposition front and wife of jailed former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, said it sounded as if the event had been stage-managed to bolster Mr. Mahathir's position ahead of possible early elections.
"It does seem like a calculated move to show the nation that he is still needed within UMNO," she told Reuters.


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