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Mahathir Rules Himself Out of Next Malaysian Election - 2002-09-13

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has ruled himself out of the next general election - due in 2004. Mr. Mahathir's comments help clarify his political future.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad says he is preparing to move out of Malaysian politics entirely once he hands over power to Deputy Premier Abdullah Ahmad Badawi late next year.

In comments in his home state of Keday, the prime minister said that, although he will not be a candidate in the next parliamentary election, he wants to ensure people support the governing National Front.

Mr. Mahathir's comments Friday help clarify his future political role. He announced in June he was stepping aside after 21 years as leader of the ruling United Malays National Organization (UMNO) and as prime minister. However, he had not previously ruled out running for a regular seat in Parliament.

Senior members of UMNO, had hoped Mr. Mahathir, now 76 years old, would lead the party in the next election. Malaysia must hold national elections by late 2004. Diplomatic sources in Kuala Lumpur say Mr. Mahathir's decision provides the UMNO leadership with more flexibility over the timing of the polls.

The sources say uncertainties over the international economic climate may lead the government to call an early election. They say UMNO leaders would want to have a vote while the local economy is relatively strong.

One diplomat says the possibility that Mr. Mahathir could lose an election may have contributed to his decision not to run. He is considered a moderate Muslim leader and since last year's terror attacks in the United States has cracked down on some Muslim militant groups.

But in his constituency, many rural voters have backed the main opposition party, which advocates a more Islamic form of government.