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Dr Mahathir alternative therapy

Contraversy has dogged Mahathir Mohamad's 22 years' dedication to making Malaysia a healthy modern economy. Now on the brink of retirement the prime minister spoke to Chris Cockerill about his country's achievements and his refusal to bow to the prescriptions of the developed world.

Dr Mahathir steps out of a proton:"the car industry has helped us leap into the industrialized world. And we have never lost money with Proton"

THERE'S A HINT of sadness and disappointment in the voice and eyes of the government aide. "We think it will be quite a low-key affair because it's Ramadan," he says. At the end of October, after 22 years as prime minister of Malaysia, Mahathir Mohamad will quietly relinquish his chair in his very large office in the administrative capital of Putrajaya to his successor, Abdulla Badawi. The prime minister-in-waiting will find it an immense chair to fill. It was Mahathir, after all, who transformed the country from a colonial backwater into one of the most developed and prosperous nations in Asia. When he took power in 1981 few observers believed he was capable of such an achievement.

At the outset he was, from the perspective of those outside Malaysia, a less than obvious choice. Lee Kuan Yew, the senior minister of neighbouring Singapore, saw him as an alarming choice, famously referring to him as a Malay outlaw.