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Malaysia’s Mahathir gives thumbs down to new PM

By JULIA ZAPPEI,Associated Press WriterAP – Saturday, July 11

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – Malaysia’s former leader Mahathir Mohamad on Friday gave a thumbs down to Prime Minister Najib Razak’s first 100 days in office, saying there has been “more negatives than positives” under the new administration.

Since taking power April 3, Najib has implemented a wide range of economic reforms to woo foreign investors as the country faces its first recession in a decade.

Mahathir, who retired in 2003 but remains an influential political figure, slammed Najib’s move to roll back an affirmative action program for ethnic Malay Muslims, including scrapping a requirement for Malays to own 30 percent equity in some sectors in the financial services industry.

Companies seeking to list on the stock exchange also no longer need to allot 30 percent shares for Malays.

Mahathir further criticized Najib for plans to scrap the use of English to teach math and science by 2012 in favor of the national Malay language, warning it would hurt the country’s competitiveness. It reversed a policy started by Mahathir in 2003 amid concerns that poor English skills were hindering students’ job opportunities.

Najib says the government remains committed to raise the level of English in schools by employing more English teachers and increasing the hours of teaching.

Mahathir also objected Najib’s plans to build a third bridge to neighboring Singapore and said he hasn’t taken concrete steps to fight corruption.

“I’m sorry to say this, there are more negatives than positives,” he told reporters when asked to assess Najib’s first 100 days. “It doesn’t mean that I don’t support the government but I think the government is doing the wrong things.”

Mahathir, was Malaysia’s longest-serving prime minister, in power between 1981 and 2003. He holds no government post but his views are widely respected.

Mahathir ran a fierce public campaign that helped pressure Najib’s predecessor, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, to step down in March, four years before his term expired.

Despite Mahathir’s assessment, the independent Merdeka Center research firm earlier this week said Najib’s approval rating has risen from 45 percent in mid-May to 65 percent, according to a telephone survey of about 1,000 voters nationwide. The survey had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

The center said the results indicate a rising number of Malaysians appreciate decisions made by Najib. Critics, however, said Najib’s popularity rating was still the lowest of all Malaysia’s prime ministers in their first 100 days.

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On the Net:

Mahathir’s blog: http://www.chedet.co.cc

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