The 94-year-old, who is Malaysia’s premier for the second time after winning a historic election in May 2018, was asked by FT correspondent Stefania Palma if he would step down in 2020 “as originally planned”.
“No, there was no actual date or time mentioned,” he said, adding that the actual time he will step down depends on “the problems that we face”.
Among these problems are the recovering of billions lost through 1MDB, as well as US$7.5 billion in compensation Malaysia is seeking from Goldman Sachs, FT reported.
Mahathir’s comments seem to be in disagreement with those previously made by nemesis-turned-ally Anwar Ibrahim, who was quoted by Bloomberg in September as saying that a handover was expected around 2020.
According to the report, the 72-year-old said that there was “an understanding that it should be around that time, but I don’t think I should be too petty about the exact month”.
Anwar still successor, but Mahathir may be best leader right now
But Mahathir rubbished talk that he would choose a successor other than Anwar. As far as he is concerned, Anwar will still be successor because “it is a promise that i made”, he said.
On talk that he might go back on his promise of stepping down, he said: “I’ve made many mistakes in appointing my successors, so I don’t want to make another mistake this time”.
When Palma asked if he was “the only person who is able to run Malaysia right now”, the nonagenarian nodded and replied: “At the moment, maybe”.
On Monday, the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) had also published similar comments from its interview with the leader.
In that interview, he declined to say when he was stepping down but promised to do so within five years of the last election, with Anwar as his successor.
“Although there are lots of other people who have been asking me to carry on until the next election, but that is their view. My commitment is to step down before the next election, certainly,” he was reported as saying.
During the Milken Institute’s Asia Summit held in Singapore in September, Anwar had also refused to state a specific handover date.
“Sometimes he’ll say: ‘in three years’, or ‘two years’, but that is Mahathir. You can’t change him at 94,” Anwar was quoted by Business Insider as saying.
“I don’t believe it is fair to go harping (on it), knowing it is next year,” he said.