Abdullah, Mahathir’s deputy, was sworn in as the nation’s fifth prime minister by Malaysia’s King Syed Sirajuddin Putra Jamalullail in a televised ceremony at the National Palace attended by Mahathir and dozens of government dignitaries.
Abdullah pledged to “fulfill the obligations of this position honestly and with all my energy,” upon accepting his new post, according to media accounts.
The 77-year-old Mahathir had governed the predominantly Muslim Malaysia since 1981 and is considered the driving force behind his country’s economic transformation into an industrial power and one of Southeast Asia’s wealthiest and most developed nations.
“I’ve had my day, it’s other people’s turn now. I had 22 years. I can’t complain,” he told reporters on Thursday, according to the BBC.
But his blunt criticisms of the West combined with his use of laws that forced a lack of press freedoms and allowed detentions without trial tempered his successes in boosting his small nation into the global marketplace.
Mahathir is leaving office amid an international outcry at his comments in an Oct. 16 speech to Islamic leaders that, “Jews rule the world by proxy. They get others to fight and die for them.”
President Bush personally rebuked Mahathir for the comments while attending a session of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Bangkok earlier this month.
A White House spokesman said Mr. Bush took Mahathir aside at the meeting and told him his remarks were “wrong and divisive” and that they stood squarely against everything the American president believes.
Leaving his old office for the last time, the outspoken Mahathir was asked by journalists if he had any advice for President Bush.
He replied: “It doesn’t pay not to tell the truth.”
Mahathir has also been questioned over the treatment of his former deputy and protege, Anwar Ibrahim, who was jailed for 15 years for abuse of power and sodomy after trials that he claims were politically motivated.
Anwar, in written comments sent to the Reuters news service, criticized the outgoing leader from his jail cell, saying Mahathir’s recent comments about Jews were only a diversion “to deflect attention (from) his misdeeds and the stench from the rot in his own back yard.”
Abdullah, who has reportedly been carefully groomed as Mahathir’s successor, is considered a quieter moderate.
Western diplomats were notably quiet on the occasion of Mahathir’s retirement.
“The embassy has not received any message from the White House,” said a U.S. embassy official in Kuala Lumpur, according to Reuters.
Regional neighbor Australia, whom Mahathir recently characterized as “some sort of transplant from another region,” stayed the diplomatic line on the change of leadership.
“I don’t have any comments to make except to re-emphasize the fact the links between Australia and Malaysia are very long, they are very deep,” Australian Prime Minister John Howard told a Melbourne radio station.
In contrast, Asian leaders offered praise for the Malaysian leader.
China expressed its “sincere admiration” for Malaysia’s progress under Mahathir, and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi hailed his “Look East Policy.”
“I will be missing my elder brother,” Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra told Malaysia’s New Straits Times daily.
For his part, Mahathir offered a pragmatic hindsight on his time as Malaysia’s leader.
“As Shakespeare said, the evil that men do lives after them and the good is oft interred with their bones,” he said on the night before his retirement.