After 21 years in power, Mahathir aims to ensure his legacy by gradually handing over the reins to 62-year-old Abdullah, who is expected to continue the Premier's pro-investment policies. Recently feted by Washington as a key ally in the war against terror, Mahathir can begin to devote more time to his self-appointed role as the Islamic world's moderate voice, while playing the role of elder statesman back home.
One issue for Abdullah is whether he will continue the country's longtime affirmative action plan to uplift the majority Malay population. Mahathir recently called the policy flawed, particularly the promotion of the Malay language over English. As former Education Minister, Abdullah understands the issues. But he must balance the need to remain globally competitive against the political risk of leaning too far to the West. By Frederik Balfour in Hong Kong EDITED BY Edited by Rose Brady